Having written last week about the importance of high-touch people skills when it comes to great leadership, it’s time now to focus on the other side of the equation: high-tech system skills. Human beings are the most sophisticated tool-making animal on the planet; it’s in our genes. But to what effect? If your technology is making life harder rather than easier, then perhaps it’s time for some new tools. Read on to discover the possibilities for making it so.
For the last several weeks, Provisions has been written or finished while I was travelling down the highway at 70 miles per hour (110 kph). To accomplish that feat, first and foremost, my wife was driving the car. Always a good idea! But there’s more.
First, we had to power my laptop for an extended period of time. That took a power adapter, tapping into the electrical system of the car. Second, we had to gain access to the Internet because the Internet has become an integral part of my creative writing process. I have an idea and want to see what others have to say on the topic. I think of a word and want to look at synonyms. I finish the Provision and want to add reader replies. So I plugged my 3G phone into my laptop with a USB modem app and I was on the Internet, all at no extra charge.
Then, as if that wasn’t enough, I twice remembered that a book had something important to say on a topic I was writing about. But where were the books? On my bookshelves at home, of course. Not to worry! Thanks to my connection to the Internet and my electronic book reader, the Amazon Kindle, I could be travelling down the highway at 70 miles per hour, purchase those books at a discount price, and be reviewing them for ideas in 60 seconds or less.
Now I don’t know about you, but I still consider all that an absolute miracle of modern technology. I am old enough to remember manual typewriters that were not self-correcting. We used special, round typewriter erasers made of hard rubber to fix typos and mistakes, with a brush on the other end to whisk away the erasings. That worked OK until I rubbed too hard, so as to put a hole in the paper. That would force me to retype the entire page.
Then something amazing happened: someone invented whiteout. Later, they built it right into electric typewriters. Backspace, correct, type over. Talk about labor-saving technology!
Tech matters. It mattered 40 years ago and it still matters today. Only today, technology is a lot more sophisticated and great leaders make sure they use technology to its full advantage. Knowing the basics is not enough since the basics, in and of themselves, are often overwhelming. Think all those cluttered, overstuffed email inboxes.
What leaders need are technologies that help them manage the mess. That’s the secret behind great leadership: systems • both electronic and otherwise • that enable leaders to get things done more easily, quickly, and reliably with excellent quality, delivery, and human engagement.
Does that sound too good to be true? Not if we know where to look and how to set things up. My wife and I have four computers: two desktops and two laptops. Why? The laptops are obvious: we travel a lot so we have to be able to take our work with us. The desktops introduce important protection thanks to the redundancy principle. If one goes down, the other becomes available.
But how do we keep our data synchronized? In our case, it happens with the click of a button. Instead of trying to remember what is where, walking back and forth with flash drives, software compares and updates the networked computers. Voila! We’ve cloned our data with almost no work and in almost no time. The process can even be automated to take place at night. It’s an efficient and important system.
And what happens to all those appointments, contacts, and tasks that appear in so many places? I frequently talk with or coach people who find that to be a daunting proposition. They move back and forth between handheld devices, Internet calendars, and personal computers • not to mention little scraps of paper. No wonder they feel stressed out!
In our case, we give it all over once again to software. No matter where an appointment gets entered, on our handheld devices, Internet calendars, or personal computers, they automatically appear within 15 minutes on our other calendars. Same thing with contacts and tasks. And what happens when we enter an appointment in the Eastern time zone and travel to a different time zone? You guessed it. The times get updated automatically.
At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. If you don’t have systems like that, or if your systems are not working right, then it’s time to bring in a pro. Tech matters. Spending money to make sure you have efficient and effective systems, to help manage both your personal and business life, is not a nice-to-have luxury. It’s a have-to-have necessity when it comes to great leadership.
How do you know if you have the systems you need and if they are working for you? Stress. Think of stress on a continuum from no stress (boredom) to extreme stress (panic). If the continuum were to be represented on a scale from 0 to 10, where would you put yourself? I like to stay around 7. That seems to be the level where I am challenged without being overwhelmed. 3 is way too low for me; 9 is way too high.
What about you? Whatever number you pick, the technology in your life should help you stay in the zone. The wrong technology can be as bad, or worse, than the absence of technology. Tech matters. Do it right, and everything gets a whole lot easier and a whole lot more fun.
Last Saturday, as you may remember from last week’s Provision, I ran the Baltimore marathon, leading the 4:45 pace group to another successful finish. Even though it was my 40th marathon, I continue to learn new things about that particular course and about running in general. In the past six months, for example, I have learned more about and experimented with barefoot running.
Now I have not experimented with actual barefoot running, nor even Vibram Five Fingers (which are little more than neoprene gloves for your feet). But I have been trying other, flexible, low-heel shoes. I’ve ended up falling in love with the Nike Frees, which come in a variety of styles ranging from a totally barefoot simulation (the 3.0) to a more structured sole (the 7.0).
Baltimore was the first time I had run an entire marathon in these shoes and I was delighted not only with the experience but also with the recovery. I was out running again, just a few days later, with no biomechanical stress nor even any particular muscle soreness. It was as though I had not even run a marathon. Was it the shoes? At least partly. That was my technology for the day, not to mention my GPS watch, and they clearly worked.
That’s the way all technology is supposed to work: set it and forget it. Unfortunately, technology can as easily add to our stress as relieve it. We worry about whether it’s working right or even working at all. We establish our systems and then spend mental energy to keep track of our systems. That’s a formula for disaster.
In his excellent book, Getting Things Done, David Allen establishes parameters for technology that works. He even has systems for people who still prefer paper. The key to any system, according to Allen, is set it and forget it. It doesn’t help to have an alarm clock if we are worrying about whether or not the alarm clock is going to go off as planned. So too with all those appointments, emails, and tasks. Unless we have systems to get them temporarily out of our minds, until we are actually dealing with them, our systems are not doing their job.
In another excellent book, In Over Our Heads, Robert Kegan makes clear that such overwhelm has become the norm for increasing numbers of people. Life and technology have overtaken us with their incessant demands. I go to sleep but my computers and colleagues on the other side of the globe are wide awake. Eight hours later, there’s another 50-100 emails to look at.
What’s a person to do? Kegan recommends what he calls the “subject-object interview,” where we become more consciously aware of life’s demands and of how we are processing those demands. The goal of such awareness is to shift from being subject to life (where life has us) to being more objective about life (where we have life).
What a difference it makes to be at choice! But choice alone is not enough. We must also have systems in place that support our choices • which, of course, represents another choice.
Tech matters, and I hope you will join with me in discovering and choosing technology that makes both life and work happen more easily, quickly, and reliably with excellent quality, delivery, and human engagement. That’s not beyond our reach and should be the goal of us all, regardless of how sophisticated that technology may be.
Coaching Inquiries: What kinds of technology do you enjoy using? Does the technology in your life make things easier or harder? How could you nudge things in a positive direction? Who do you know who could help you with that? How quickly would you like to make it so?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
I enjoyed your Provision this morning, Touch Matters. It reminded me of some lines from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself. Something like…”All truths wait in all things. They neither hasten their own delivery nor resist it. They do not need the obstetric forceps of the surgeon. The insignificant is as big as any. What is less, or more, than a touch…” Thanks for sending these to me.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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