By Stephen R. Covey April 2003 We need to be guided by an internal compass, our conscience, rather than the external clock and learn to prioritize and differentiate the important from the urgent What are the first things in your life? One good way to answer that question is by asking other questions: “What is unique about me? What are my unique gifts? What is it that I can do that no one else can?” For instance, who else can be a father to your child? Who else can teach your students? Who else can lead your company? We all have some demanding new project or product. Each of us has unique talents and capabilities and an important work to attend to in life. The tragedy is that our contribution is often never made because the important ‘first things’ in our lives are choked out by other urgent things. In our book, First Things First, co-authored with Roger and Rebecca Merrill, we suggest that the path to personal leadership follows the stepping stones of vision, mission, balance, roles, goals, perspective and integrity in the moment of choice. We invite readers to think carefully through this process: “What are my responsibilities in life? Who are the people I care about?” The answers become the basis for thinking through the roles. Your goals are then set by asking: “What is the important future state for each relationship or responsibility?” Setting up win-win agreements with people and maintaining positive relationships is not an efficient process. In fact, the process is usually slow. But once a win-win agreement is in place, the work will go fast. Efficiency is different from effectiveness. Effectiveness is a results word; efficiency is a methods word. Some people can climb the ladder of success efficiently, but if it’s leaning against the wrong wall, they won’t be effective. Efficiency is the value you learn when you work with things. You can move things around fast: you can move money, manage resources and rearrange your furniture quickly. But if you try to be efficient with people on jugular issues, you’ll likely be ineffective. Subordinate Clock to Compass For many executives, the dominant metaphor of life is the clock. We value the clock for its speed and efficiency. The clock has its place, efficiency has its place—but after effectiveness. The symbol of effectiveness is the compass—a sense of direction, purpose, vision, perspective and balance. A well-educated conscience serves as an internal monitoring and guidance system. To move from a clock to a compass mindset, you focus on moving the fulcrum over by empowering other people. It takes a lot of internal security and self-mastery, before you can assume that risk. People who like to control their time, money and things, tend to control people, taking the efficiency approach, which in the long run is ineffective. For example, one morning, I met with a group in our training programme. Someone said: “Creating a personal mission statement is a tough process.” I said: “Well, are you approaching it through an efficiency paradigm or an effectiveness paradigm? If you use the efficiency approach, you may try to bang it out this weekend. But if you use the effectiveness approach, you’ll carry on this tortuous internal debate on every aspect of your nature, your memory system, your imagination system, your value system, your old habits and old scripts. You’ll keep this dialogue going until you feel at peace.” Why do executives find it easy to schedule and keep appointments with others but hard to keep appointments with themselves? If people can make and keep promises to themselves, they will significantly increase their social integrity. Knowing that people and relationships are more important than schedules and things, we can subordinate a schedule without feeling guilty because we superordinate the conscience, the commitment to a larger vision and set of values. We subordinate the clock approach of efficiency to the compass approach of effectiveness. When using the compass, we subordinate our schedules to people, purposes and principles. The ‘mega priorities’ of the compass subordinate the ‘mini priorities’ of the clock. Knowing that relationships are more important than schedules, we can subordinate a schedule without feeling guilty because we superordinate the conscience From Urgency to Importance When we are guided by an internal compass, we may dedicate an entire morning to one person or to one project and subordinate an earlier schedule we’d set up, unless we have other strong commitments. Or we may decide to set aside an afternoon to keep an appointment only with ourselves. During that time, we might sharpen the saw by exercising one or more of the four dimensions of our personality—physical, mental, social and spiritual. We use self-awareness to know what to do and when. I recommend a time management credo that says: “I will not be governed by the efficiency of the clock; I will be governed by my conscience. Because my conscience deals with the totality of my life.” When you are guided by an internal compass or set of principles, you begin to see that the idea that I am in control is an arrogant concept. You have to humbly submit yourself to natural laws that ultimately govern anyway. If you internalize those laws and principles, you create a highly educated conscience. And if you are open to it, you will keep first things first. Stephen R. Covey is chairperson and founder of the Covey Leadership Centre, a 700-member leadership development firm. He is the author of best-seller.The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Website: www.franklincovey.com
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