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One Time It’s Better to Take Your Eyes Off the Prize

Susan Fowler Posted by Susan Fowler.

Susan Fowler is the author of Why Motivating People Doesn't Work...And What Does as well as several articles on the topic of motivation.


If you are a leader on a mission to focus the actions of your people this year, would you be surprised if I suggested having your people focus on something other than the acti....

Eyes on the prizeIf you are a leader on a mission to focus the actions of your people this year, would you be surprised if I suggested having your people focus on something other than the actions you wanted them to take?

It may feel counterintuitive, but the key to taking action is to shift your focus from the actions on your list to the values linked to those actions.

Let me give you an example of what I mean.

If you were a poor listener, most people would immediately recommend you take a class on developing listening skills. In that class you would learn the behaviors that go into being a better listener. At the end of the day, you would have a much better knowledge of the skills involved in listening—but do you really think you would have addressed the underlying causes of poor listening in the first place? Probably not. The same set of attitudes and behaviors that kept you from listening in the past would still be present.

Ironically, the best way for you to become a better listener is not to focus on listening so much as on a developed value linked to listening. Find a value in your life that listening supports, and then make the link between that value and the skill of listening.

If you have a developed value for learning, make the link between learning and listening. If you have a developed value for demonstrating you care about people, the link between caring about people and listening becomes the catalyst for listening to people.

You don’t have to change your natural disposition for listening, but because you are able to link your developed values for learning and caring, your listening behavior will change. Rather than focusing on the behavior you want to change—being a better listener—focus on linking the behavior to your developed values.

What are the new behaviors you want your people to develop? Here’s a three-step plan that will help you take authentic action.

  1. Help people identify and develop their work-related values and purpose— these are the mechanisms for taking action and making good decisions.
  2. Set SMART goals, then have people shift their focus to linking their developed values to the action plan.
  3. Keep values top of mind as you help people achieve their goals. Remind people of the link between action and stated values.

Help your people link their values to their goals and action plans. Then they can take authentic action by linking those values to the actions they hope to take.

About the author:

Susan Fowler is one of the principal authors—together with David Facer and Drea Zigarmi—of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ new Optimal Motivation process and workshop.