The hidden costs of focusing on the urgent and not the important

Author:   |   Date: 16/12/2019   |   Categories: Career Development, Coaching, Decision Making, Intuition, Leadership, Leading in crisis, Mindfulness

I recently stayed with my sister and my 18 year old niece (M), and offered to help them throw out some clothes that no longer "brought joy".
 
We started out making good progress, teaching the process of appreciating what you have and letting go of what no longer "serves" you. 
 
The session was a bit derailed by a little family politics: me encouraging M. to keep some things that annoyed her mum; her mum overruling a few decisions; and a side campaign by M, to hide a few pieces in her older sister's wardrobe. 
 
Whilst a healthy family dynamic has room for fun and games, there can be a shadow side of power and control: undermining my sister's influence; re-asserting parental values; sneaking t-shirts into someone else's drawer.  
 
And I did feel a bit of guilt afterwards that what should have been a learning experience for M. got a bit overwritten by her mum's and my agendas.
 
The same can happen in our workplaces when we interrupt someone's learning or development opportunity for our own purposes or gain.  
 
Here is the scenario:  a colleague or team member is working on a new project, which requires plenty of curiosity, inquiry, trying out new ways of doing things, and problem solving.  Then a client or stakeholder rings requiring something which sends up the panic signals: this could be because of a changed deadline, a conflicting priority, a new "emergency" that needs attention.  Anything in the "urgent" column of life. 
 
You pull your team member off their development project due to an "all hands on deck" emergency.  And they lose connection to their learning, growth and development.  This happens time and time again - and your team member eventually puts the new project in the "too hard" basket, abandoned along with the learning and growth to date.  
 
More importantly, their openness to new ideas, willingness to take risks, embrace and lead change are replaced by cynicism, resentment and hopelessness:  nothing will ever change; other people are always more important; and as I have no agency I no longer need to be accountable or responsible.  They lose ownership over their work and trust in you and the organisation. 
 
Learning and development more often sits in the "important but not urgent" side of the equation - the place that Stephen Covey* suggested we spend most of our time if we were going to be truly efficient. 
 
So next time you are tempted to interrupt someone's learning (and that includes your own) by a more "urgent and important" need, remember that you are at risk of losing thrice:  the chance to learn and develop an important skill, the motivation and positive engagement of your team AND the trust that learning and development are truly valued in your life, family or workplace. 
 
The happy ending to this story is that M. has a well developed sense of self, her wants and needs and has embraced the joy of having less but enjoying more.  
 
Her mum and I have perhaps a bit further to go. 
 
 

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