Just One Thing

January 9, 2013 Linda Aspey No Comments

So it’s the New Year and a time for all those resolutions (or a time for lots of blogs about resolutions, telling us they’re either great or a waste of time!)  Personally I like the idea of setting oneself a challenge at any time, beginning, middle or end of the year. For me, the timing is arbitrary.

But I do think that if you make resolutions (or set personal goals), if you set more than one, they  probably ain’t gonna happen. In my view, three is the absolute most than any human can work on at any one time and be successful. Just One Thing is even better. Why? Well, we’re all busy people, and turning resolutions or personal goals into success usually means doing something extra or different. The more we have to do, the less likely we’re going to find the time to do it or sustain it.  The more different it is, the harder it is to change – and change in behaviour or attitude requires deliberate and repeated practice to embed it. Maintaining desire and focus is essential. Also, we increase our chances of success if we enlist the support of others in making personal changes, and getting their help is more likely if it’s on just One Thing.

The problem with lists

Here’s an example. I coached someone recently who’d been on a leadership development programme around a year ago. I asked what goals she’d set herself at the end, and she showed me a list of 6 things. Some were behaviours she wanted to change (stop saying yes to everything and everyone), others were actions (achieve promotion in a year), in order of priority. When we looked at which ones she’d achieved in the year, it was just one, and she felt that was a bit of a fluke. Yes she’d been promoted but she’d been in line for promotion anyway and had just pushed a little harder to get it. The behavioural goals were, she said, ruefully, were “not really achieved, I’ve kind of improved but not much” at least not so they could come off the list with a satisfying tick. On reflection, she realised she’d felt a little overwhelmed by the others, so hadn’t really bothered to work on them beyond the first few weeks.  So although she had achieved one of her main goals, she’d picked the easiest one to work on and was left with a slight sense of failure about the whole exercise.

Just One Thing

Conversely, earlier last year I worked with an executive who’d undergone a 360 feedback exercise, asking for views on what he needed to do to improve. Lots of ideas, mostly fed back in the negative (even though we’d asked the question positively!) Don’t interrupt. Listen more. Be less directive. Don’t be so eager to act quickly. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Develop wisdom. Delegate more. And so forth. Yet if we’d set each of these as a goal it’s unlikely he’d be able to make all of these shifts to make him the oh so wonderful person they wanted him to be. He felt daunted.

So what did we do? We set one goal. Not a smart goal. Just one goal.  In his own words, after a Time to Think session in which he did some good, productive thinking. It was, “Think before you speak”. Easy to remember, can be applied in most contexts including many of the above, easy to tell people that’s what he’s working on, easy to start the day with a reminder to self, and easy to reflect on at the end of the day.  He kept a notebook on it. We spoke about it each time we met and made it central to our work together. And when we re-did the 360 6 months later, we asked the question (of mostly the same people as the previous 360) “What do you see as his key strengths?” The answer from several was “He thinks before he speaks”.

Breaking Bad Habits

In What Got you Here Won’t Get you There, Marshall Goldsmith outlines “Twenty Habits That Hold You Back From The Top” such as “Winning too much” (the need to win at all costs all the time, when it matters, when it doesn’t, and when it’s totally irrelevant), “Adding too much value” (the overwhelming urge to add our bit to every discussion even when it’s not really needed), and “Starting sentences with ‘No,’ ‘But,’ or ‘However’ (the overuse of these negative intros which secretly say, ‘You’re wrong – and I’m right’).  It’s hard for anyone to read this book and not see themselves being described through the pages; most I share it with can identify at least 3 habits in themselves. Habits like these are the things that make the difference in how we get on at work, how we progress our careers, how we build good relationships.  Often we’re not that aware of them, yet unless we recognise our bad habits we may be setting ourselves the wrong resolutions.

And you?

So what would your One Thing be? Chances are you’ll see it in Marshall’s list of 20 habits. Or ask your friends, your colleagues, your family, your boss. “What’s the One Thing I need to do to get better?” Even though you will get different answers, there will probably be a theme. And when you’ve got your theme, what One Thing does that give you?

Unlike Columbo’s “Just one more thing”, Just One Thing doesn’t focus on the minute detail. Just choose One Thing that you do that gets in your own or others’ way (or is perceived to) and then work on it. Write it down, remember it, tell people that are what you’re working on (and ask them to tell you when you are and aren’t doing it) and keep practising using it.

Then whether it’s a new, mid or end of year challenge, you’ll be able to look back on it and have the pleasure of making one very large and very satisfying tick in your development plan, before you set to working on the next One Thing!  

If you’d like some help with thinking through and actioning your One Thing, just contact us for more information.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There – more at http://www.marshallgoldsmithlibrary.com/


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