United States President, Barack Obama is well-known as an inspirational speaker and leader. His State of the Union message, delivered on January 28th, received global media coverage. The consensus is that this was another inspirational tour de force, not just for Americans but many others who have been undergoing hard times.
It doesn’t matter that there are differences about the policies, programmes and political agenda; at one point or another, your heart was stirred and in some instances, tears came to your eyes. The stories of challenges met, persistence in the face of adversity and significant progress toward previously-announced goals, offered hope, encouragement and recognition.
The orderly segmentation of key issues with “before and after” scenarios, allowed us to experience tangible evidence of results in key areas of acknowledged need and concern. The personalized stories that cut across diverse constituencies demonstrated an inclusion of even adversaries. The acknowledgement that mistakes had been made, which yielded valuable lessons that are now being applied toward the restoration of the principles upon which Americans pride themselves. There was ample evidence that selected, timely interventions had brought an increased spirit of collaboration with the private sector and academia, which is yielding nation-building results.
All this with the persistent reminders that:
- It is not easy
- The job is not finished
- There are many still in need but not forgotten
- He will lead by example
My reflections are tempered by the mounting evidence that here in Barbados and in many places around the world, there is a yearning for evidence that positive things are happening in spite of debilitating strife.
Fortunately, we don’t have to occupy ourselves with managing shooting wars and maintaining huge military expenditures. We are not the prime targets of global terrorist activities that require the highest security levels wherever we have a presence. We are simply confronted with the necessity of changing dysfunctional habits and attitudes over which we have a high degree of control.
We must find our way to the realization that just having a job is not the same as having meaningful work; that wringing our hands and blaming others for our plight deprives us of the strength to make effective use of what we have.
Robert H. Schaffer, a colleague, wrote a book called The Breakthrough Strategy, which contains insights that can effectively be applied to building success and creating a high performance culture. In it, he lists 5 barriers to performance improvement:
- Psychological Myopia: The tendency to view the world in ways that are psychologically comfortable and personally reassuring.
- Wasteful Work Patterns: The tendency to shape one’s activities so as to stay busy with familiar routines and avoid anxiety-provoking challenges.
- Weak Performance Expectations: Avoiding risk by asking for less than is really possible or permitting them to escape from real commitments and consequences.
- Misuse of Work Management Disciplines: The tendency to be casual, careless or cynical about work planning, measurement and tracking procedures.
- Invisible Conspiracy: The underside of organization culture that reinforces debilitating formal and informal institutional mechanisms and practices.
Each of us is confronted with these barriers on a daily basis and there are concrete steps we can take to reduce or eliminate them. As we consciously address them, all things around us will improve. We can do it.