What Do You Need to Take off Your Plate?

Last year, I was approached about a board position with an organization whose mission resonated deeply.

They wanted someone who could help them think strategically about where they were going, how to best utilize the resources they had, and how to prioritize their many initiatives.

As we talked more, I realized the organization was really two separate entities, and I started asking questions about the focus of each – the goals, the structure, the support, the successes, the challenges, the opportunities.

At some point, the leader of the organization paused and said they needed to circle back with the board to get clarity. The next time we met, they thanked me for my questions and let me know that they had decided to shut the second organization down.

In other words, I talked (or questioned) myself out of a board seat.

The questions made them realize they didn’t have the right resources in place to fully support the second organization, nor did they know what it was trying to achieve.

They also realized that trying to keep the second organization functioning was distracting from the core purpose of the first organization, even though the idea itself had a lot of potential.

I felt conflicted. On the one hand, I was happy to have helped them set strategic priorities (placing a focus on the first organization). I did my job.

On the other, I lost an opportunity to be involved in an industry that really excited me, working with people who were pioneering certain efforts.  

And on yet another hand (or foot), I was relieved that they realized this before I put a lot more effort into something that wasn’t a true priority.

And on a final hand (or foot), I was appreciative of the leadership in the organization and the courage it took to make that decision. They thanked me sincerely for my contribution to the decision and described the impact it made – while at the same time letting me know that I was out of a job before it had even really started.

It’s so easy to get caught up in an exciting idea, or caught up in moving things forward simply because it’s already started or already been communicated.

It’s a strong leader who can say look, we can’t do everything here. You’re all important to me, a lot of this has merit, and I appreciate everyone’s contributions – but this is where we need to go.

A lot of times that means wrestling with those feelings of loss around not getting to do something exciting, or feelings of fear around how those who have already been involved will react. But moving forward anyway in service of what’s most important.

This plays out in our daily lives just as much as it plays out in our organizations.

Whether you’re leading a larger team or simply trying to lead your own life, think about:

  • Is this a true priority? Too often we keep pushing forward with things simply because we said we were going to do it, ignoring the fact that conditions have changed.
  • What feels like a weight pulling on you? Because we prioritize hard work, oftentimes we can ignore the places that are working really well because they don’t feel as hard.
  • What would happen if you let yourself let go of what’s not working, or committed to redesigning it so that it was more life-giving?

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