Staying on Top of It = Power

Three different experiences and conversations – seemingly unrelated – have led me to muse about the concept captured by the title of this post:

  1. Staying ahead of the pain. 
    After a surgery or an injury, they tell you to stay ahead of the pain. I never really understood that until a minor surgery gave me that experience.  I am a fairly stoic person when it comes to physical discomfort and I try not to take strong pharmaceuticals. However, I learned how much sense it made to “stay ahead of the pain.” To take a few painkillers when the pain would likely be worst meant that the rest of my body could relax. Instead of fighting the pain, my body could concentrate on healing. Otherwise there would be a moment when I’d cross a line and then, not only would I feel really bad, but healing would have become harder because my body would have been weakened by struggling against pain and discomfort.
  2. Challenging ourselves in exercise … but not too much.
    I’ve had a few conversations and experiences with trainers and Pilates instructors. In order to strengthen a targeted part of the body, we want to use enough weight and resistance to make it challenging, but not so much that we have to use other muscles to do the work. Using other parts of the body to assist can create strain and injury. And, it’s fairly easy to tell. It is a pleasurable experience to work a muscle hard and actually feel it get stronger, as opposed to straining against a weight that is just too heavy and feeling as if we are about to lose control any minute.
  3. Using restraint.
    Using restraint in a situation that we assess might get out of hand, such as an argument or a debate with someone when our views are seriously polarized.  It’s so tempting to want to be “right.”  It feels really good to be righteous. Fighting with the health insurance company over a claim is an example. I always maintained that I would hold to my principles and appeal and put up a fight if I thought I was correct. But, no matter how correct I may be, I have to be realistic about what an appeal may cost me, literally and figuratively, versus how it would be to my benefit. Sometimes, it is just plain better to let it go. Use restraint.

In each of these situations, I am taking control, stepping up and above, judiciously. I am keeping myself centered, making realistic choices, not wasting precious time, money or physical resources. That is power. When I make a choice, based on a careful assessment, using only the necessary resources, I am empowering myself. In some ways that feels like a limitation. After all, shouldn’t I stick to my principles in all cases and fight against an insurance claim that I know to be incorrect?  Well, I would have said yes … except that I have re-thought that premise.  Given that I am not likely to win, who will benefit from my fight?  It is not as if I did nothing. In this particular case, I decided to change insurance companies and in the meantime, use my current insurance fully. But, I made the choice to preserve my time and temper and that felt powerful.

So how do these concepts relate to leaders in organization life?

  • As leaders, we gain power when we make choices to follow the mission we have established and we do not seek funding just for the sake of the money.
  • We gain power when we say “no” to a project that we are not adequately staffed to accomplish successfully.
  • We gain power when we set priorities, for ourselves and others, based on our vision and mission and are clear with our co-workers about what we can accomplish and what we can’t.
  • We gain power when we tackle an odious task, before it becomes so overwhelming that we can never hope to accomplish it by the deadline – completing a report, learning a new computer program, drafting a budget. A wise person once said to me when I confessed that I had not yet completed a business assessment that would give me a good view of my expenses, “Why would you put something off that you know will give you relief? Get yourself in the chair!” Why indeed? I can tell you that I felt really powerful when I finally set myself in the chair.
  • We gain power when we get the input and participation from everyone who has a stake in the issue at hand. Having dotted the “i’s” and crossed the “t’s” we can rest easy.

Staying on top of whatever it is helps us to conserve energy, using only what is needed to get the job done, without overstressing the system. It means we can eventually accomplish more because we have reserve we can use if we absolutely need it, rather than wasting it when it’s not needed. As another wise person in my life used to say: “Being a heroine is not called for here!”

Martha Lask’s Blog

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