How to Limit Sideways Energy

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Often, organizations engage in activities that do little to propel the organization forward. People are working. Busyness is occurring. But little movement is experienced. This is what we refer to as “sideways energy.” Exerting sideways energy can be a hindrance to any organization. Through conversations and readings, here are three questions I have found that leaders ask to help them focus on what matters most for their organization and limit sideways energy:

1. Who are we?

Reality must be the starting point for all organizations. And it can shift everyday, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively.

There will always be a tendency to magnify the positive and minimize the negative. However, the unbalanced focus can hinder forward movement and limit effective decision-making.

Great leaders do not ignore their organization’s weaknesses. They know that an identified weakness is simply a challenge to overcome. And they will use the challenge to make forward-moving decisions and motivate others within the organization to do the same, often more effectively than an identified strength. Organizational leaders should be excited to ask the question, “Who are we?”

2. Who do we need to be?

All organizations should have a clearly articulated vision to chase. Jim Collins states that a vision consists of three parts:

  • The reason for the organization’s existence
  • The organization’s unchanging core values
  • The organization’s BHAGs (Big, hairy, audacious goals)

Unsurprisingly, the pursuit of these items will require adjustments for the organization. What does the future organization need to look like to achieve the goals that have been laid out? In the midst of inevitable environmental shifts, what does the organization need to look like so that the organization can fulfill its mission 10 to 15 years from now? Who do we need to be?

3. What do we need to do to get there?

There will be a gap between “Who are we?” and “Who do we need to be?” For some organizations, this gap will be large. For others, the distance is not nearly as significant. The distance between “Who are we?” and “Who do we need to be?” is reduced by a series decisions, some more significant than others. But every decision matters.

It is the leaders’ responsibility to ensure that every decision, even daily decisions, allows the organization to take one step closer to becoming the organization that they need to be.

Sideways energy can consume valuable time and resources. These three questions can assist any leader in maintaining his or her focus on what matters most and limit activity that slows down the organization’s forward movement.

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