The Sunday Mail
Hunt for Greatness
Greatness loves clear-thinking, focus and bold action. Eyes that look are common, yet those that see are rare.
Everyone can look at what is happening, however, it takes a different skill to make sense of what is happening. Strategic thinking requires that we reflect IN action and also reflect ON action. Doing one without the other is not sufficient.
In leadership and strategy it is important to frequently leave the dance-floor and “go to the balcony”. On the dance floor it is busy and active. But on the balcony you see a different picture and perspective. Going to the balcony does not mean going away literary although this may be helpful sometimes. It is a way of thinking. Shifting from the day-to-day heat to of the moment and observing what is going on, what is coming and what needs to be done next.
History may teach, but regrettably people do not learn. Human nature loves to “dance” and finds the discipline of thought and reflection challenging. The importance of history is not the laundry list of dates and the sequence of activities, but the ability to move from a daily activity and apply historical thought to events, processes and systems.
Professor J. Rufus Fears authored a great course entitled: “The Wisdom of History”. Of the ten fundamental lessons of history he that he puts forward, five caught my attention namely:
- We do not learn from history.
- Science and technology do not make us immune to the laws of history.
- Along with the lust for power, religion and spirituality are the most profound motivators in human history.
- Great nations rise and fall because of human decisions made by individual leaders.
- The statesman is distinguished from a mere politician by four qualities: a bedrock of principles, a moral compass, a vision, and the ability to create a consensus to achieve that vision.
Strategy is the ability to learn from the past, make sense of the present and chart a pathway to the future. When the lessons of history are not learnt, the lessons of history will be repeated. This is why reflecting IN action and also reflect ON action are important.
Reflecting in action means taking the lessons from the balcony into daily activity. Reflecting on action means taking moments to go to the balcony and observe what is happening on the dance floor. Gaining perspective is a critical strategic enabler.
Reflecting in action
Reflection in action means approaching situations like a competent jazz music player. Jazz players are popular because of their wide adaptability and ability to improvise, working the past seamlessly into the present situation.
Reflecting in action requires a bedrock of skills, having the historical knowledge and perspective that one applies to the present circumstances. Make space every day for “pockets of balcony experiences”. These are moments of reflection. Journalling has that powerful effect. Reading and travelling also help. Look back, look at the present and then look forward.
As you look back, like a competent jazz player, look for the best parts of the past to take with you into the present situations. Stop carrying stamps of blame to stick on every available window. Blame, hurt, revenge, bitterness leave you frozen in the past and blinded from moving into the future. Refuse to let adversity immobilise you.
Bitterness blares your vision and drains energy leaving you sick, sickening and making poor decisions. Exercise historical though and reflect in action. As you do your work and execute your dance, hold the questions about the past long enough, but with strategic responsibility while you wait for answers to arrive. Reflect on the past for learning and not leaning. Do not go to the past to built fortresses of defeatism.
Do not waste strategic bandwidth looking for people to apportion blame. If ever you take any retrospectives, make sure that they are blameless retrospectives. Eyes and mouths that merely look and blurt blame are easy to find. It is eyes that see clearly, making sense out of chaos, knowing how to play to build greatness that are precious.
Refuse to be left behind because you are so busy feasting on the garbage of past. Go to the balcony and see the bigger picture. Mr Rufus Fears counsels that we usually do not learn from history, because we are too busy to make sense of what is really going on. Greatness is always beckoning. Are you awake to its signals?
The frame you use to look at history are critical and determine the direction you take. What you call pain, or problems in some bold eyes is opportunity, room and overture. See the past so that you can draw a bold map into the future. The future is not some distant land that is far away. The decisions you take are creating the future that you will leave in. Take responsibility for your life.
Do not for a moment put yourself in the zone of disempowerment where you ask questions that limit you and drain off your energy. Speak as a responsible and able creator. Ask as a responsible father or mother. Frame the future with vision and hope. Glance at the present, look ahead and think ahead and then get into action. It is not enough to be absent in the past, in the present and in the future. You cannot just be an observer in life. Be an active participant; but a reflecting one.
Reflect on action
Perspectives, frames and models determine action and focus. Reflecting on action is the essence of going to the balcony. See the big picture if you want to play the big game. Reflection on action allows you to see greatness where it really lies.
Pockets of greatness that are hidden in the way you see, what you see and how you see. Strategy is the ability to see around corners, see through situations, joining the dots and following through. Strategy is tracing the path to the future using the information, the context and the decision power at hand. It calls for sense-making, fact-fired-faith, and far-sightedness action.
Leadership seeds the vision and creates a clear map to the future, communicates this map and mobilises the needed actions that puts all the system in motion. You have to make a call and take the necessary action depending on what you see. You will not always have all the information, but you can look behind, look ahead, look above, look beside, look beyond, look within and look through to the future you desire.
In Mr Rufus words great nations rise and fall because of human decisions made by individual leaders. This does not only apply to nations, but everything in life. Reflecting on action allows you to make better decisions. It allows you to get a handle on a bedrock of principles, a moral compass, a vision, and the ability to create a consensus to achieve vision.
To move towards greatness you have to go beyond just staring at problems and challenges and joining the chorus of complainers. Stop merely looking at start seeing potential and the handle bars to the future.
Stop staring at problems, and start steering through them to the future. Stop being frozen in challenges and clarify your vision and what you see and do. Stop admiring opportunities as they pass because they are hard to do something about. Look around you with the eyes of a leader, the mind of a strategist and the attitude of a mechanic and the heart of a responsible father.
Look beyond the barriers that you face today. The present is urgent and it cries for attention yet it soon pales into the past. Look beyond your obstacles and the passion of the moment.
Look at the problems but see beyond them. Look with your ears and see with your ears. Engage in creative thinking and this will brings new areas of your brain to life. Engage in possibility thinking, it will propel you to new levels of greatness. Engage in inspired thinking, it will help you turn your ideas into things of value. Inside you is the value-generator.
Inside you are inexhaustible resources that you can tap and use. You are a mobile warehouse of resources and inexhaustible talent. Elevate the quality and platform of your thinking and focus your passion and energy. Stop wasting energy on endless worries and baseless debates. See through the fog with a clear mind.
Stop looking all over and ignoring the resources within. Unless you see greatness inside, you will always think that you are somewhat not favoured and you are discriminated by life. Greatness starts where you are and with what you have. See greatness, pursue greatness and never for a moment doubt that you are able to do great things. Reflect in action and on action and you will see how different things could really be.
Committed to your greatness.
Milton Kamwendo is a leading international transformational and motivational speaker, author, and a virtual, hybrid and in-person workshop facilitator. He is a cutting-edge strategy, team-building and organisation development facilitator and consultant. His life purpose is to inspire and promote greatness. He can be reached at: [email protected] and His website is: www.miltonkamwendo.com