An overlooked aspect of achieving success is being situationally aware and grasping your operational environment.
If you’ll forgive my being blunt, too many of you greatly overcomplicate the simple and set yourself up for failure.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve had conversations with executives across more than ten industries.
A common complaint is their inability to get things done due to their copious workload growing by the hour.
They each got highly irritated with me when I asked them how deliberately they approached their tasks through the lens of the constraints they faced.
Then the excuses started. “But, Scott, you don’t understand!”
When I asked them to enlighten me, they couldn’t.
Then I irritated them by telling them money and time were priorities and, as such, could be changed when needed. Their job was to know when and how to prioritize.
And that takes us back to understanding the operational environment we find ourselves in at work.
Constraints within projects drive project efforts. As a leader, executive, etc., it is your job to prioritize your actions in line with those constraints.
Doing what you WANT to do instead of what you NEED to do is a significant reason you are stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed.
I had to learn this the hard way. As an executive, I took great pride in my ability to outwork anyone in the organization for years. There was no amount of work I couldn’t get done. I’d show up early, stay late, and “crush it” while there.
But I wasn’t crushing it. I was doing something completely contrarian to my ethos as a former military Special Operator: I was living in the reactive zone rather than taking proactive measures to win.
Even worse, I was doing so because I failed to understand the operational environments I found myself in.
Just writing that makes me hope people don’t take steps to revoke my tab and remove me from the Regimental rolls. I’m only half-kidding.
Then I woke up. I took a hard look in the mirror and realized I needed to admit I was foolishly taking pride in my voluminous working hours.
To change, I went back to the basics. I became situationally aware of the status of what I was working on and strove to understand the different constraints each faced.
And then, wait for it: I decided to trust myself. It sounds simple, but it wasn’t.
I started trusting my abilities, my experiences, and my skills.
I stopped letting others dictate my priorities of effort.
I started working within the constraints present and got a firm grasp on our operating environment.
I started communicating better. I’ll rephrase; I started obsessively communicating. To all levels, higher, lower, and adjacent.
So much so that when my project teams started complaining that I repeated myself, I told them I’d stop saying it when we started doing it.
But here is the secret to communicating within your organization:
- Remove optimism bias.
- Be optimistic, but be honest.
- Don’t tell people what you think they want to hear; tell them what they must hear for your efforts to be successful.
Stop wishing things were a certain way and communicate how they are.
Before you ask, communicating will also help you when you have no control over your operational environment.
The secret is straightforward, be professional in your communication, not whiny. Please don’t use it to mask your massive excuse-making.
If you work “overtime” or are late on deliverables, I’d challenge you to tell me what you were instead.
What “wrong” actions were you taking? What simple and non-urgent tasks did you waste time on rather than tackling the necessary but difficult ones.
Own your operational environment and quit using it to explain why you didn’t get things done.
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. It isn’t as complicated as you think and will help you win.
And winning feels better than failure.