French version here: http://lecercle.lesechos.fr/node/58672/
If managers and business leaders today are to avoid the tyranny of the short-term, induced by market imperatives and the ubiquity of new technologies, it is ever more relevant to look deep inside ourselves to redefine our criteria for a successful life. – This article is written by Michel Lozeau and Jean-Marc Phelippeau, Executive Coaches at Coalis, Paris, the French partner of The Global Coaching Partnership (TGCP).
Today's tyranny of the urgency and the ultra short term in the enterprise is often described as a by-product of the growing tendency to focus exclusively on the numbers. In most publicly traded companies, the rhythm of financial quarters provides the essential tempo on which all managers' calendars must be aligned, in a roller coaster like trajectory which inevitably produces its share of exhaustion and burnouts. In addition, the proliferation of mobile and Internet connected devices accelerates the interaction of economic agents and exacerbates the feeling of dizziness for managers already struggling to exert a minimal level of control over the agenda of their days and weeks.
Today, for most of our clients the planning horizon rarely exceeds 12 months, and due to the ever-increasing frequency of changes in the global business world, a 3-year projection exercise is considered a quantum leap to infinity.
The consequences of this life in the instantaneous can range from mild disenchantment to a rather serious a sense of loss. Because purpose - whether it is the life purpose of a human being, or the business purpose of an enterprise - can only be rooted in a long-term vision. For a human being, reflecting on the finality (and hence the term) of his own life is usually the essential driver for his search of purpose. Our experience as coaches teaches us that the more this sense of purpose is clear for a business leader and the more it coincides with the mission of his enterprise, the better will be the quality of his leadership, and generally exceptional business results will follow.
But before attaining this rare harmony between personal and business purposes, in the intimacy of our coaching relationship, we often hear executives say: "Now that I have finally reached the top of this organization of several thousand people, what next?" They wonder what kind of business leaders they aspire to be, what footprint they want to leave behind them, what compass to use to guide their choices, or even why they are where they are.
What a sad state of affairs: many of our most brilliant minds let the end of the quarter or the end of the fiscal year limit their thinking and sometimes impoverish their lives.
Beyond the professional world, the lack of a long-term perspective to guide everyday actions can also lead to some tragic mistakes in choosing our priorities. For instance in favouring the immediate gratification of pleasing a boss or a client, or emptying our in-box, rather than cultivating our relationship with our friends and family or investing time in our couple or in the education of our children (1), whose success can only be judged over two decades… Twenty years, that's a pretty long wait for a positive feedback for whoever is not clear on his life's success criteria!
"Choose your destiny or someone else will"
But is it possible to find purpose for our professional life in the context of the short-term tyranny described at the beginning of this article? We think the answer is yes, provided we take the precaution of preserving some quiet space for stepping back regularly; attending to some ritual such as a coaching session or another type of personal growth activity. In fact, once this work on our own self has begun, it will be easier to withstand the assaults of quarterly imperatives without losing track of our long-term objective, which will act as a lighthouse flashing between the waves of a stormy sea to keep us off the rocks, and thus we will gain both in terms of resilience and coherence.
To discover our life purpose or "personal mission statement", in Covey's words (2), is an exploration that requires us to project ourselves forward into our finality, our end game, like thinking about the eulogy we would like to hear spoken at our funeral, or the bio we wish we would read in Wikipedia after our death.
This task, both exhilarating and stress inducing, is unfortunately never urgent. It is however strictly essential for those who want to be the subject of their lives instead of fulfilling their parent's dreams or otherwise conforming to the expectations of others. This requires time and implies extracting ourselves from the day-to-day to reveal ourselves to our own eyes.
If one is looking for a process to choose or confirm one's life purpose, and the criteria for measuring its achievement, an individual coaching program is obviously a great vehicle although it is rarely the explicit purpose of coaching. A greater level of knowledge of the self, and of the perceptions that we generate, gaining in the consciousness of our vulnerabilities and our influences, provides the opportunity to clean up our beliefs about ourselves. Sometimes, this exercise of lucidity will provoke significant inflexions in our life choices and our behaviours, as we align with our newfound sense of purpose.
(1) cf. "How will you measure your life" (Clayton M. Christensen, Harvard Business Review, Jul-Aug 2010).
(2) "The 7 habits of highly effective people", Stephen Covey (Free Press, 2004).