Plans, Goals, and Why I Hated Them

I’m not much of a planner. I am the woman who took her three kids under the age of 6 to the beach without a diaper bag. I mean I have gone a lot of places without one but that was probably the worst. For the better part of year one with baby #1 I didn’t even own a diaper bag. I was just stuff a diaper into my tiny purse and hope for the best. I do that with grown up things too. I could “plan” an entire weekend away with my husband just by finding a sitter. Its more fun when there is no itinerary when things can go off track or something amazing you never planned for falls in your lap. My husband is the 100% opposite of that. He is stressed out when there is no plan. If I go for a weekend away or even out for the evening with friends, I’m talking when he isn’t even involved, he’ll ask what the plan is. If I don’t know or can’t answer any follow up questions I can actually see him get tense. Its not that he wants to make sure I’m doing or not doing anything in particular he just cannot wrap his mind around why anyone would want to not know what the plan is. One time, before we had kids, he planned a whole weekend away without telling me. It wasn’t meant to be a surprise or anything crazy it was just so I could feel like we got in the truck and happened upon a hotel an hour or so away and he could know all of the details.

So this is my style, has been for years. I never know what the end result should be so we’ll just see what it is when we get there. Younger me would add this is clearly the right way because how else do you allow God the space he needs to move in your life (insert a little “bless your heart” for silly, high and mighty, younger me). I did also try to apply this to work originally. As you can imagine, it did not go well.
“How do you decide which candidates to interview?”
“I am interviewing all of them, you never know what you’ll find.”
“What is the structure for the end result here?”
“I won’t know until I discuss with every stakeholder.”
“When is your deadline for (insert almost anything here)?”
“hmm well, I’ll have to get back to you when I have more information.” (this would literally continue until about a week before anything rolled out.)

Now, I can only imagine how frustrating that would be. Thank goodness I either had very supportive managers or I was very dense to their frustrations, likely a combination to some extent. They never knew when I would be done with anything until just before it was actually done.

The problem was that each deadline felt like a goal and I never know if I’m going to hit a goal. I can work toward it but there are so very many outside factors. How do I know if I’ll actually get there an in the prescribed time? Think about your typical New Year’s weight loss goal. You can research the best diet for your body, buy all the fresh organic food that complies with said diet, purchase work out DVD (because you also set a financial goal and a gym membership doesn’t fit in, good job you), carve out time on the calendar every day for exercise, and do your meal prep religiously…. and still not lose weight. First, there is always something that sets you off track like the extra Christmas party that lands in January. Then, you realize that you got a little over zealous with the type of workout you got and you really weren’t ready for the insane level of exercise. Finally, and this is important, sometimes you do all of the things and don’t get results. (For my friends who don’t come from the corporate world, exchange some verbs and nouns and all of this exactly the same in business, it’s essentially Mad Libs.) I can already hear some people reading this saying you just push through, one bad day doesn’t have to be a bad week or failure. I know that, but it does set your timing off course and potentially change the outcome.

You typically don’t plan in failures, big or small. You don’t plan for them in your weight loss journey or in your work projects. (No one tells you that Nancy isn’t going to pull her weight so you should only assign her menial tasks that you know you can get done quickly yourself if need be.) So on top of it feeling unnatural to me to set the goals and assign the timeframes, I also find the uncertainty painful. There is pain and frustration in going off course because you know where you “should be,” if there is no plan, I’m not off course, so there is no pain there.

A big part of the reason for this pain and frustration is that the goal, or original plan, just feels like this over arching need off in the future:
Hire and onboard a new employee.
Implement a new workflow.
Lose 30 pounds.
These things are a big deal. You can’t just treat them like they are a singular topic for “one day”. If you do that they really are terrifying! All of the naysayer talk, that comes from your own brain starts flooding in. Well I know I’m pretty good at gaining weight but losing it? I don’t even know how to lose 5 pounds let alone 30?! That kind of thing. Its the whole eat the elephant idea, you do it one bite at a time, starting at the ______. Those last four words are really key. You have to know where to take your first bite. (And yes, only I would combine an example about weight loss with an analogy of eating an elephant.)

A couple things I’m reminding myself of.

Ignorance is not a strategy. I have heard “hope is not a strategy” and relying on hope would be the nice way to put how I was running things. Really I was just sticking my head in the sand, which is worse. Wanting things to go well but having no idea how or if I was impacting them. Ignorance is also not bliss. Everyone being in the dark, including me, on what the plan is, what we’re shooting for, etcetera, was not making them or me happy. Sure things were getting done and as I said in the last post, I have always been a high performer, but it was almost by accident. I couldn’t even imagine what I could have accomplished during that time employing an actual strategy.

Diversion without a plan is not spontaneity it is chaos. This is because, if there wasn’t a plan to start with there is nothing to deviate from. It is frustrating to live out a plan that doesn’t work the way you envisioned but it is better than never seeing any of the progress. Notice though, I almost use plan and goal interchangeably. That is because now I’m starting to think of them that way. The goal has to have milestones and action steps attached to it. (I eat my elephant starting with the left ear then moving to the right.) When you look at it that way it becomes much less of this daunting expectation looming out in the future and more of a roadmap to where you want to be. The plan will show you where you’re off course but also point your way back on course again.

Make your plan, but hold it loosely. (Remember when I said that younger me was so proud of being plan-less, well this is my more mature, refined version.) I am still a big advocate for margin and white space on your calendar, just not a blank slate. I firmly believe that we are given opportunities to be present for people, and situations, to pour into them. It is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible to see these opportunities if you’re holding tightly to your plan, your intention, your goal. You develop tunnel vision that way, you have to keep your eyes up. You will also miss an opportunity to refine your strategy on that goal. Maybe you’re still planning to lose weight but it went from winter to summer. Sure you can keep doing your DVD, or you could take a step back, reevaluate, and decide to start kayaking, or hiking, or running. So plan the marathon run, the budget to pay down debt, the career aspiration, but intentionally leave some wiggle room, leave the white space. Make the room for God (insert the universe, or anyone else you choose for that matter) to work, redirect, or allow you to show up by building in the margin.

I am Busy and Important, Dang It

I used to be so proud of how busy I was. A number of years ago I got to start doing project based work for the first time in my career. The team I was brought on to was new and there were three of us who would just take on projects and handle them from soup to nuts. Because we were high performing motivated people giving us structure wasn’t high on priority list so there was some limited organization to how it all worked but it all got completed and well. We would research vendors and their processes, determine the costs versus benefits, and then implement them within teams. I am not exactly a type A personality so it seemed exciting and fun to have so many different projects, that I could just work through following my own lead, that I could be proud of. It was interesting because all of the projects would impact large portions of the department if not the department in its entirety so there was a lot of visibility into our work. Most of the time the work that you’re completing on a day to day basis is really behind the scenes type of work. It impacts the team, department, or company but in more subtle ways. For example you might be compiling case notes for an attorney who, based on what you provided, was able to build a strong case and win in court. Or you might be the person drew up the plans for a home to be built but the crew actually followed them and built it. There is certainly impact in both of those roles but you don’t get to experience the finished product. The work that we did on that team wasn’t like that. You might work for weeks or months on a project and once implemented it was all on us whether it succeeded or not, and there was never just one project going on at a time.

I loved it. I was thriving off of it. I remember once a supervisor (at that time, though I was leading indirectly, I was not in a leadership role) asked me how I got everything done at work and spent time with my kids. I was down right flattered and tickled pink that she would ask me that. I responded that I was in meetings all day at work, hung out with my kids in the evening, and then would work after I put them to bed. And I was so proud of that. To be honest it was only even partially true. I mean I did do that from time to time but it wasn’t a daily occurrence that I was living by. It wasn’t even a regular occurrence. There might be a big implementation that needed a lot of attention, or training that took up most of the day, that required me to work at night but not on the regular.

So why would I say that? Someone was asking out of concern for my wellbeing how I was balancing it all. (Note, we are not starting a women in the workforce discussion here. I am right there with you on the “whoa she asked what?!” however we’re talking about the intent and her intent was to be kind.) So why would I embellish the work I was doing to make it sound like more, more time, more tasks, more stress? Because I wanted her to know how busy I was.

Because important is obviously the synonym for busy.

Who doesn’t want to be important and needed? I’m not talking about being in charge of everything or having all of the stress of being responsible for it all but with probably every aspect of life we want to be important in it. Having a busy schedule in that area means people want a lot of our time, if people want our time then we must be important. Mystery solved. That is what I was doing. I loved feeling important at work. I hadn’t had that feeling for years so I was really jumping in with both feet when it was available again. If someone wanted me in the meeting it meant they thought I was important enough to be there. I would throw everything I had into that meeting, project, issue to have the biggest impact, and then leave telling the others how I needed to get to another meeting on something else. (You know, to remind them that I was busy, and therefore important.) I was taking on and loving every minute of the work, but never stopping to think what it was actually accomplishing.

If you’re wondering what the actual tipping point was that I had a break through and realized how silly my approach was. I didn’t. I didn’t have some break through myself to fix this. What happened was there was a change in leadership up the chain who saw the potential of our team and the work we were doing. That leader was instrumental in redirecting our efforts to, prioritize, increase the value we were adding, and align the strategies.

A couple things I’m reminding myself of since then.

Movement without a strategy is not progress its gyration. All of our activities that we choose take us away from something else. So when you decide to do something you’re essentially deciding not to take on something else. This is important because the things that you choose are therefore your priority over all else at that time. Answering emails over your lunch break is taking priority over being with your children, scheduling that doctor’s appointment you’ve been putting off, working out, or sharing some community with friends over a meal. Though I’m not a proponent of doing it regularly, sometimes answering the emails is a good prioritization because it responds to your team’s questions, accomplishes a task that you wouldn’t otherwise have time to do, or lets your boss know that you are making your work a priority. The point is, you have to decide what your strategy is and ensure that what you are busying yourself with is moving you in the direction you want to go rather than just gyrating where you’re at.

Being asked to be/do anything means someone thinks you’ll add value to it. So actually do that, instead of being important. Once I shifted my focus from being important (exclusively about me) to adding value (about the other people or the project) I was so much more helpful in those situations. I could actually provide insight, create next steps and take on to-dos, and I could help provide direction on the overall company or department goal. Sometimes people really do invite you to the meeting because of your title or seniority or because they think you’re important. When I suspect I’m in those situations I now say, “I don’t feel like I’m adding much value to this, what is it that you’re needing from me so I make sure you’re getting it?” This helps two fold because often it redirects me so that I am actually useful but other times it gets me dismissed from the meeting, project, etc. Which, if your focus is adding value and moving within your strategy toward your goals, is such a gift.

Stop telling people you’re busy. This is one thing that is just a gross topic to me, probably because I’m very conscious of the busy trap now and I still do it sometimes. When someone asks “How’s it going?”, do not say busy. That is not a response to that question. While it might get a knowing smile and a head nod it doesn’t mean anything. Instead, novel idea for most of us I know, answer the question. Tell them what you’re working on, tell them what you’ve accomplished, tell them what you have coming down the pipe. You could respond with;
“Not too bad, I am plowing through some voicemails after being out and then I’ll catch up on email.”
“Great! I just finished putting together my new lesson plan and its going to be so good!”
“Good, we’re getting ready to head out on vacation so I’m just tying up some loose ends on my desk.”

All of those are clear that you’re busy, but more importantly demonstrate why and how it is impacting the people you work with or the customers you serve. Also, you may notice none are an awkward book of an answer. If on the off chance someone does greet you with a question strictly in passing and doesn’t actually want an answer, say great, say amazing, say fantastic, say something that will throw them off balance and brighten their day.

Hi! I’m Kelly

Welcome to my honest and transparent blog, Transitional Leadership. I am so glad you’re here. To introduce myself, I am a vastly imperfect Christian mother of three boys and wife to the most amazing man. I live in north central Wisconsin where my love of living from the land converges with the typical Amazon, smart TV, overly scheduled life we all live in. (I am sure I’m not alone in creating Pinterest boards to support my homesteading aspirations while in the Walmart check-out.) I am also a leader, always have been and always will be.

Being a leader as a relatively young woman while balancing (yes, I do say balancing) being a devoted wife, strong and caring mother, and supportive friend is a bit of a double edged sword. It is the leaders of the world who get the most done and live life to the fullest while doing it. However, if you add to those relationships your faith, home, health, finances, and all of the other critical pieces of life, you can sometimes wonder if you really wanted to live life that fully. The catch is, you don’t seem to be able to stop! It is just part of who some of us are. In the midst of all of that, and trying to put your whole self into all of it, I (truly, most of us) are hosing things up all day every day.

I am writing this blog for this exact reason

  • Because being a leader is tough and oh so beautiful.
  • Because being a woman and mom as a leader is a crazy important, under represented voice.
  • Because those of us in the reality of living the struggle daily need a resource.
  • Because I want people to not have to learn every lesson the hard way. Learn from my mistakes!
  • Because all of us who are imperfectly transitioning into or through leadership need a community to feel supported and included.

So come with me on this journey with me, you can join me in laughing at my mistakes while hopefully findings a few helpful nuggets that will assist you in avoiding some of those very pitfalls. If you get inspired by my transparency, ask a question or share a story. I would love to hear from you.