I ran across a few lines from Co-Active Leadership* that have been working through my soul for the last few weeks.
In Co-Active Leadership, responsibility has two important parts:
- Being response-able: able to respond by having the awareness to notice what is needed in the moment and the agility to respond from a wide palette of creative choices rather than from an entrenched system of patterned and predictable reactions.
- Being responsible: taking responsibility as a co-creator of our life story.
When viewed through this new lens, leadership development is not about acquiring new skills. Instead, the focus of leadership development is about growing the scope of the world for which one is able to be responsible.
While there’s a lot to apply there when it comes to leadership in our professional lives, what I want to call out today is how this applies to our personal lives. Rather than just sharing the concept, I thought I’d share how I’m working with it in case it helps you find your way to it.
All too often, people are worn out and burnt out because the scope of the world they’re responsible for has gotten too big. An urge to help out in our community turns into non-profit service which turns into sitting on a board. Sharing carpooling duties turns into watching kids until their parents get off work. Playing bass with your buddies turns into a bass band. Helping a little at the church turns into managing the holiday procession.
In a work context, we call this “scope creep.” In our life, we call it “life.” (Tweet this.)
I’ve also been thinking about how a business project often makes being responsible for my non-work life so much harder. When I’m in the middle of a launch or finishing a book manuscript, simple texts from friends about meeting up become “too hard; can’t even respond” – my typical palette of creative choices collapse into patterned and predictable non-responses. It’s not just meeting with friends, small choices such as figuring out what to eat for dinner or whether I want to go on a motorcycle ride are also “too hard; press button.”
When I look back over the year – from standing up Momentum as a separate brand and business, finishing Team Habits, Dad’s passing, the health journey Angela’s on, quite a few team switchups, all while having a full coaching roster – the scope of the world for which I’ve been responsible has grown to the limits of my capabilities. I saw some of it coming; other parts of it, not so much.
What I’m exploring is this line: “the focus of leadership development is about growing the scope of the world for which one is able to be responsible.” (Emphasis mine.)
The standard understanding of “growing the scope of the world” is at odds with what I (and many others) need to do, which is to decrease the scope of the world to what we are able to be responsible for. As pointed out in Subtract*, the simple reading of the line neglects subtraction as a path to positive change. “Growth” as adding more responsibility is the food we’re already over-full from eating. Part of the reason the 5 Projects Rule works is that it limits the scope of the world we can be creatively responsible for to something we’re able to be responsible for – too many projects typically amount to not having a wide palette of creative choices because generating creative choices requires resources we don’t have.
The more nuanced view here, though, is that I (and we) often need to change scope along a different vector. In my case as an owner and founder, the vector of change is trading tasks, projects, and responsibilities that aren’t essentially mine for ones that are. The trades are already in progress and they’re taking the time it takes for other incredibly smart, driven souls to pick them up, integrate them, and own them.
The practice is to accept that I can’t take on additional scope while this is working through. As I said in Start Finishing, doing your best work requires the five keys of intention, awareness, boundaries, courage, and discipline (IABCD) and no one is exempt, especially me.
There’s peace after accepting the constraint, though. The work ahead is the right work, right now. When it’s done, I’ll reassess and recalibrate for the seasons I’m in then. The simplistic view of work-life balance is fraught precisely because it doesn’t account for the reality that we have different seasons.
Think about the lines above.
- Are you in a season where you’re needing to grow the scope of the world for which you’re responsible? Or do you need to decrease or trade scope?
- What decisions, conversations, or projects do you need to initiate based on that?
- What would you do if there wasn’t one right answer?
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