How to Drain Your Own Swamp
Have you ever found yourself stuck . . . as if your inspiration simply slipped away?
You had a vision or a plan and suddenly the clarity was replaced with a murky fog. With all of the myriad distractions and challenges we can be faced with in life, it’s easy for this to happen.
We’ve likely all heard or seen a phrase that describes this phenomenon perfectly. Maybe it was spoken like a proverb in a meeting or perhaps scrawled on a bathroom wall somewhere. “When you’re up to your neck in alligators, it’s hard to remember that the initial objective was to drain the swamp.”
That’s funny. It’s also accurate.
Life can be challenging! Just making it through the day, when it feels like stress is overtaking us, can take a toll and . . . over time, it tends to make us forget the deeper purpose in what we are doing.
That memorable little phrase about gators, which has so conveniently served as graffiti wisdom for years, acknowledges this reality. You have your alligators, we have ours. So how do we regain our perspective when life gets stressful and our vision fades?
Let’s reference a couple of thriving principles that effective leaders employ. The second part of the alligator metaphor provides a clue; it speaks of a forgotten objective.
So, what’s your objective? In any moment, do you know what you want?
Simply stopping for a few moments, to breathe and remind ourselves of our grander aim or purpose, is a simple yet effective practice; one that can help us rise above the alligators we may be tangling with in order to reconnect our deeper purpose or goal.
There’s also a way to keep us from losing focus even when inevitable distractions, stresses or troubles come along.
In module four of our online leadership development program, we discuss the importance of putting vision first. If you’ve listened to our podcasts or read these blogs before, you’ll likely remember our metaphor:
When you’re driving, you look through the windshield. You may glance into your mirrors from time-to-time to make sure something isn’t creeping up on you, but don’t stare in the rear-view mirror. You look where you’re going.
This perfectly describes a thriving orientation. We create clear objectives and then visit them regularly so that we know where we are heading. In the very next module, we focus on assessment which, in this driving metaphor, relates to looking in our side-and rear-view mirrors.
What we typically discover as we work with clients is that some of us tend to be so vision-focused that we lose track of what’s happening around us, while others among us get so distracted by what’s right in from of us that we totally lose track of our vision.
We describe these two principles—vision and assessment—as two sides of the same coin. Both are vital for a thriving life, but we advise that it’s important to prioritize vision. We sometimes say: “Live in your vision; visit the way things are.” We refer to this overall process as “Vision-Navigation.”
In other words, referencing our driving metaphor again: drive with your eyes focused through the windshield but consult the rear-view mirror regularly.
The thriving secret is to learn how to make accurate assessments about the facts of our situation (how many alligators are we dealing with here, what kind are they, etc.) inside the context of our intended objective.
When we do this, we remain clear about our objective and we stay focused. This means that every action we take will be oriented, not just to solve a momentary problem, but to take those steps that also advance us towards the achievement of our objective.
Having that type of focus often changes what we do. For one thing, we might realize we need help. Too many alligators! Thriving leaders ask for help. In fact, we understand that this is one of our most powerful leadership skills; one that will inspire others to become team players like us. “Help! I need a hand with these alligators!”
Of course, we also know that the best way to enroll others in helping us is to get them engaged with our vision. You’ve likely read how President Kennedy did that when he shared his bold vision of getting a man to the moon and back?
He didn’t start with enumerating the many problems that would need to be overcome to accomplish that bold vision. He didn’t describe the alligators! He shared the objective, his vision, the goal he intended to achieve. This captivated the nation and we did it. He didn’t do it, we did it; it took millions of people to accomplish that amazing feat.
Your Thriving Breakthrough opportunity for the week:
Choose some particularly stressful aspect of your working life. Identify or remind yourself of your objective. Assess the situation. Consider what help you need to succeed and think of a few colleagues that might be willing and able to support you. Craft a simple, brief explanation of the situation—clearly stating your objective (and not too much detail on the alligators—then use your script to ask for the help you need.
Then, together, drain that swamp!
Will Wilkinson and Christopher Harding