Following Your North Star: Purpose

BY J.P. HOGAN

 

Life comes at us fast these days. So much activity, so much data to be absorbed, so many decisions to be made, and very little time to act. In these circumstances, it is vitally important to understand what really matters, to stay focused on those key areas, and to not become distracted by the “noise.” However, the challenge for many of us is in figuring out what to focus on, and then staying focused.

Staying focused can be particularly difficult in our present business climate, when people and organizations are pushed to show immediate results. The rub often occurs when the plans and strategies can’t keep pace with the demands of modern life and business. This, in turn, leads to frustration. It’s not uncommon for people to lose sight of their original purpose as they react to immediate demands.

While assessing progress on a strategy development project with a major automotive client a few years ago, a key executive confided his frustrations to me. He said, “We started out with specific goals, so how did we get to this point? Almost all of our original goals have been pushed into the background or they’re being completely ignored!”

To help answer his questions, I asked the executive to imagine an 18th-century ship setting sail from New York, destined for England. During the long journey, storms were encountered and small course adjustments were made to compensate. Ultimately, the crew was surprised to discover that they were approaching not England, but Brazil! Under the circumstances, each navigational decision may have seemed prudent, but they were made without taking time to consult with the only thing that doesn’t change in a storm ... the seafarer’s unfailing wav system ... the stars.

Like the ship’s crew, my client had begun focusing on near-term issues. In dealing with the small problems that popped up along the way, his company made decisions that dramatically changed the course of the business, if only a little at a time.

There is no question that strategies governing short and mid-term actions need to be regularly reassessed. Being flexible to change is a requirement for success. But when those short- and mid-term decisions are made in the heat of the moment without keeping longer-term objectives and guiding principals in mind, people and teams can lose direction.

To find and follow your own North Star, you might try asking yourself a few questions: What are the core values that govern your behavior? What do you want to accomplish in your personal and professional lives? How will you ensure that you’ll stay on course?

If these answers aren’t coming to you easily, contact me and I’ll help. If they are, please feel free to respond with your thoughts. We would love to share them with the rest of the iMatter community!