Energy comes from numerous of sources. It is easy to take it as an absolute, there will be power when needed. It is omnipresent. However, how we channel it becomes the question. It can propel us across the sky, turn on our lights, move us across open ground, or focus our attention. How might we direct our energy sources to have the greatest impact?
I have re-framing the act of strategic planning as an energy management plan. There is much we can work on, but where we direct our output is a critical decision.
I was out for a morning run in Wyoming. It was rainy and low clouds hung in the valley. I decided to deviate from the main gravel road to a 4×4 track that led into the hills. After four strides on the muddy surface, I noticed animal prints. Quickly I assessed it was a grizzly bear, the claw marks at the top being the most evident. I decided I did not need to run into the woods, charging up behind a grizzly that was out for a morning forage. So I changed directions.
Further out the main gravel road, I encountered a bull elk standing on a high point just off the road. He eyed me as I progressed towards his elevated position. The elk turned and faced me, still a reasonable distance away. After a loud haunting bugle, he started trotting in my direction. I quickly recognized that I was a threat and decided to change directions again. I ceased the unintended battle for the high ground without thought and retraced my steps.
We do not always know what we will encounter on our adventures, and we can possess enough clarity about the work that matters to decide when to proceed and when to find another path. Changing directions is not defeat; it is the reality of navigating, and it does not always take bear tracks and aggressive elk to shape our new path.
When a forest fire is actively burning in our proximity, it is easy to get distracted by the smoke, air quality index, and potential evacuation status. The forerunning indicators create anxiety and impact our life patterns. The fire is the bigger threat, the element that is going to fundamentally change the landscape.
Being distracted by the peripheral conditions is convenient but not the priority. A smoke free day is not an indicator that all is well.
The other day, I sent the above photo to Rebecca’s Private Idaho (RPI) Race Leadership Team. RPI is an Idaho-based gravel cycling event consisting of three major races. The photo captured a snapshot of trash I encountered on a popular trail the day after RPI’s first day of competition. As I stuffed used gels and discarded wrappers into my jersey pocket, I realized race participants had adopted a mindset that littering was acceptable (despite being asked to keep the trails pristine at the pre-race briefings). I sent off a quick email with three suggestions in hopes it might curtail racers from depositing trash on the course during the events.
What followed was a master class in responsibility. Rebecca (of local and national cycling fame) responded quickly, despite being in total demand as leader of the weekend, acknowledged there had been a volunteer breakdown. The trail was not swept (ridden afterward) with a crew specifically assigned to collecting trash. Further, she was sending out a team that day to take another pass and collect remaining items. Most importantly, she was committed to making an emphatic announcement about rider expectations at the next rider briefing before the largest part of the event. Lastly, I received an email with a photo showing a few additional pieces of trash collected by the follow-up team who had checked the trail by that evening.
I share this story because at no time did anyone try to dismiss the issue as unimportant. There was no way to confirm all the trail litter was from the race. The RPI event used the trail system and took responsibility for returning it for public use in good shape.
How might we take responsibility like RPI, even when the actions that cause friction are outside our control? If our name is on the banner, how do we live our organizational values to provide uninterrupted accountability? When we seek to create trust and authenticity, we say what we believe and then act in a manner that reinforces our beliefs. There are no shortcuts to integrity (or hosting a large cycling event).
We cannot always see the route to the summit. It might be visible on our map but not from our current location. Does that mean we abort the peak ascent? If we are committed to the journey, we move forward, wayfinding as we encounter each obstacle while focused on keeping ourselves oriented to the summit. Even when we lose sight of the pinnacle, we ascend, knowing the journey will forever change the context of the work that inspires us.
Making the inner workings of our organizational visible might be more revealing than professionally polished inspiration. As a former fire fighter, almost everyone who peeked into the fire department’s open bay doors was glad to be offered a tour. Their curiosity to see the fire engines, ambulances, emergency response equipment, and fire fighters in person enhanced their appreciation for the responsibility of the fire service.
How might we provide behind the scene tours that provide greater depth and dimension to our work. How might we engage our community with an authentic show-and-tell moment?
A standing tree looks strong and robust. When we see the core we gain insights on the health of the tree. With a tree this can be harder, unless we take take a core sample. It is more accessible with an organization. What an enterprise states what it believes, we can then monitor if their actions and see if they match-up.
What is your reaction to this monitoring system? Does it inspire? Does it connect you to the work? Does it provide motivation and accountability? Is there a hybrid version you would prefer? Is it relevant? Does it empower and build trust?
I am curious where platforms like this will land in the social sector workplace?
What if we thought of planning as a calculation of energy management? What if we deprioritized the role of time in our planning efforts? What if we were more honest about where to focus our energy instead of what schedule we might reverse-engineer on a calendar?
We might assume the forest fire can be extinguished in 24 hours, but external factors may change the reality; a significant weather event, the inability to secure needed resources, or a more pressing fire closer to a town changes the energy we invest in fighting the current fire. There is a scenario where the first winter snowstorm ultimately extinguishes the fire. The ‘let nature take care of it’ option usually does not appear on the first draft of our timeline.