Checking a Box or Making a Difference

It seems like the older I get that I do more reflecting. During the recent holiday period, I was talking to my daughter about college and thought back to my time leaving high school and entering college. I had full intentions to be a coach/teacher until the summer before my freshman year in college. I worked at a local bank in my home town and was convinced by several of the management team members there that accounting was the desired path for me. They had several reasons for this advice, and I never really questioned it.

I signed up for the accounting degree path that fall, found a part time job, got real busy trying to make good grades (to keep financial assistance and stay in school), and ensure I graduated in four years. So I accomplished my task, passed the CPA exam, and went to work for one of these large national firms. After a few months, I realized I had been so busy “checking all the boxes” that I had not really considered the significance of what I was doing, nor the decisions I had made. I was in a very good field of work, that was clearly not the best fit for me. I was miserably busy. I couldn’t really complain, I had a good job, was learning a great deal, and was doing what many would aspire to. However, it was not a good fit for me.

I wonder how many of us get caught in that same trap in our current situations today. I am not necessarily talking about the job itself, but how we approach the various aspects of the job. You see, I got so busy in college complying with all the basic expectations of getting the degree, that I never really thought about the significance of what I was doing nor the impact it would have. For leaders, we face that same challenge on a regular basis. Are we really adding value in our daily work focus or are we just checking boxes and getting by?

We go knock out a few safety observations, but did we really have meaningful contact with someone and make a difference?

We lead a safety training session, but did we really connect with the group?

We lead a weekly manufacturing meeting, but did we really come away with a better plan to drive improvement, or did we just meet?

We meet with our sales team, but was it really a good investment of our time, or did we just get together?

You see, if we aren’t careful, we can be very busy doing all the right stuff, checking all the right boxes, having the appearance of “doing our job”; but miss the real opportunity of leading others and having a real influence. I am referring to the kind of influence that really makes a difference.

In college, I was very driven and goal oriented. My issue was that I didn’t take the time to ask the right questions and consider the significance of what I was doing. I was very busy focused on achieving a really good, wrong plan.

If we aren’t getting the results we want, but think we are doing all the right stuff, maybe we need to stop and consider what we are really accomplishing in the “doing”. So as we start a new year, take a few minutes and give some thought to not just what you are doing, but the reasons behind it. You can continue to “check all the boxes” and probably get by in today’s environment, but you probably aren’t going to really make much of a difference. It’s your choice, if you want to make a difference as a leader, it’s more than “checking a box”.

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