Principles vs Decisions

The best leaders in dual-purpose organizations consider their high-level principles sacrosanct but their ground-level decisions provisional. 


Harvard Business Review, “How Companies Can Balance Social Impact and Financial Goals,” January 2019

The benefit of Agile and agility is the flexibility to maneuver based on what is in front of you.

What typically gets lost is the high-level principles in our drive to “be agile.”

Which star are you navigating?

What principles are you using to guide your decisions?

Are those principles strong enough to overcome short-term challenges and pressures?

It’s easy to forget the high-level, long-term principles when faced with short-term challenges that, frequently, surface issues around money and security.

As the authors of the Harvard Business Review article point out, it’s a strategic paradox that needs to be recognized and addressed. Sometimes we have to make choices between our higher purpose and bringing in enough money to pay our bills. I wish that wasn’t the case, but that’s today’s reality.

The things that bring in the most money and gain the most rewards aren’t necessarily (and frequently aren’t) for the highest good. Or YOUR highest good.

The authors recommend putting guardrails in place to help you with decision-making. These guardrails help you keep the long-term, highest good goals and the short-term survival needs in focus.

The process of establishing guardrails invites you to combine seemingly disparate objectives.

How can you continue pursuing what you love while keeping a roof over your head?

Where can you compromise and where is compromise unacceptable?

It requires getting creative. Brainstorming.

Getting very clear on what is important to you and what isn’t.

The guardrails allow you to be more agile. You gain a framework that helps you make decisions as opportunities present themselves and as your environment changes.

Evolution Happens – How You Can Work With It

How is your life different from last year?

How is your life different from 5 years ago? 10 years ago? 20 years ago? Since you left college (or high school)?

How has your life evolved over time?

Is it an orderly progression of steps towards mastery?

Is it a series of plateaus punctuated by periods of change and confusion?

Are you where you thought you would be?

Did everything go according to plan?

Did you find challenges you didn’t expect?

We continue growing and developing as we age.

We’re not stuck with our initial decisions around “what we’re going to be when we grow up.”

We learn new things through experience – especially if we allow ourselves time to reflect on that experience.

If we manage to get some clarity around what we want our life to look like in the future, we’re able to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.

We don’t have to wait for a wrenching event outside of our control to move towards our desired future.

We may be able to evolve more gently.

How can you ease into your future?

Can you combine what you are doing now and leverage your existing skills and experience with what you want in your future?

Can you set aside some time to make future-building a priority? Are there particular skills you will need that requires more concentration than combination will allow?

As you ease into your future, what will you ultimately need to let go of?

What will you need to prepare to say “no” to?

What obligations and contracts will you need to break?

What relationships need to change? What relationships may need to be abandoned?

In an ideal world, we are all doing this evolution mindfully.

We are taking responsibility for our experience of life and for what our life looks like.

Often, we’re reacting to what life throws at us. That’s OK. We can’t predict all-the-things and we control very little.

The best we can do is take one more step towards our desired future.

Look around and see whether an opportunity has surfaced that helps us along the way.

Occasionally discard things from the pack that weigh us down.

And continually check to make sure we are still going in the direction of our dreams.

Approaching Major Change

I was chatting with a friend a few weeks back. We started talking about how to handle conflicting major goals.

As I reflected on the conversation, I realized that in my life, I’ve handled major (somewhat planned) change using these three approaches:

  1. Combination.  Can I combine goals or activitie?
    • Example: If one goal is “Live in New Zealand for a few years” and another goal is “Become an herbalist” – maybe I can combine the goals “Study Maori traditional medicine in New Zealand.”
  2. Periodization.  This is the approach cited by those (like myself) who are big fans of focus and prioritization.  I find it works best for goals I can chunk into small steps and can tackle separately. 
    • Example: If a goal is to change careers to be able to spend more time with family: I can focus one period on getting clear on the transition, the next period on any necessary schooling (maybe further breaking that process down into the various skills required), the next period on working with a mentor to practice these new skills, the period after that practicing something specific, etc.
  3. Evolution. This is the process of combining old and new and is often done accidentally. 
    • Example: When I transitioned from History to IT, this was done via evolution (albeit not very planned). I had teaching skills I picked up when I served as a History Graduate Assistant and moved those to a new context (IT and corporate work). I let go of the old History context.  As my career evolved and opportunities arose, I would pick things up (e.g. project management) and let things go (e.g. eLearning development). 

I’m going to talk about each of these approaches and how they might combine over the next few posts.