For years, my wife and I had envisioned having some sort of “mini-farm” in our backyard, and had dreamed about what that might look like. We did lots of research into various plants and animals, talked about which ones we thought we would want, and even sketched out plans and ideas. But just as often, this led to feeling overwhelmed with what it would take to get started, and how much we didn’t know about how to do it well (and how to keep everything alive!). But then, several months ago, we did three things: committed ourselves to action, changed our approach from “all at once” to “one step at a time,” and accepted the fact that it would take time to see the fruits of our labor. And so we entered into the world known as “urban farming.”
Rather than trying to start all of our ideas in one season, we decided to do only one thing first – plant a couple of potted dwarf fruit trees. We believed this would be a simple and low-maintenance way to start, so we purchased and planted two pear trees and an apple tree, and placed them on our patio. When that was done, we planted two different herbs in pots, and only after they were growing did we move on to the next step, which was to assemble a small chicken coop and purchase two laying hens, so that we could have our own fresh eggs. Now that we are comfortable with caring for the chickens, we are finally moving on to constructing our first raised bed garden space, but (like everything else) a little bit at a time (in this instance, one 3’ x 6’ box at a time). Finally, piece-by-piece, in a manageable process, we are becoming urban farmers.
There are two valuable leadership principles that I believe we can draw from this experience. The first principle is referred to by Shawn Achor, in The Happiness Advantage, as “The Zorro Circle.” This is the idea of starting with small victories and accomplishments, and gradually working your way outward to larger ones. That’s what we did when we started with a couple of plants and gradually expanded what we were doing, but not until we had experienced victory with each step along the way. We didn’t plant herbs until the trees were successfully growing, we didn’t start the chicken coop until the herbs were growing, and so on. The successive victories boosted our confidence and kept the grand vision from becoming overwhelming.
The second principle is found in Verne Harnish’s Scaling Up, when he talks about prioritizing priorities. In other words, if everything is a priority, nothing is, so even if there are many needs, in order to be successful you need to select only a small number of those needs to make as your top priority, and only when those are in order should you move on to the next one. If every need is receiving priority attention, you will be spread too thin to manage each one well, so address them sequentially, one after the other and not all at the same time. This also means you have to choose which ones to address first, and work to keep the other needs from distracting you until the first priorities have been addressed. In our tiny “urban farm,” we didn’t give our attention to fruit trees, herbs, chickens, root vegetables, and other vegetables all at once, but chose the order that would work for us and tackled one priority at a time.
I’m sure you can see how these two principles compliment each other: choose the most important need and make that the priority, work at it until you see progress, momentum, and success, achieving smaller victories, and then expand your efforts by moving to and/or incorporating the next priority. One victory at a time, you will grow and accomplish goals, and eventually you will look back and be pleasantly surprised at the progress that has been made, and you will find that you are maintaining much more than you could have if you had tried to start out by doing everything at once.
In the first year at my new job, this intentionally became how I approached my leadership. I first took time to listen, observe, assess, and learn, and saw the variety of needs and issues in front of me (as well as the plethora of good), and I knew that I couldn’t give my attention to all them at once. So, I prioritized those needs, and began addressing them one or two at time. I shared with people the needs I saw so that they would know that I was listening to them, but I also shared – out loud – that if everything was a priority, nothing would be, so I would be tackling needs one at a time, and then I shared the order in which I was starting. This helped me to keep the other needs from distracting me, helped people to be patient, and built trust that I would eventually address all of the needs as they saw me accomplishing the first priorities. Prioritizing the priorities, and then achieving the initial victories, paved the way for a succession of victories and a pattern of growth and accomplishment.
You have heard the old adage, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” The same is true with the tasks and needs in front of you. Sort your priorities, and begin to address them one at a time. Achieve small victories. Move to, or add, the next priority. Continue the cycle. Your confidence will grow, your successes will grow, and your leadership will grow.