The Only Thing We Can Control

Posted on June 14, 2023

A group of people sit around a table in a conference room. One person is standing at the head of the table pointing to sticky notes displayed on the wall.

Today’s Morning Buzz is brought to you by Melissa Cantarero Weiss, Deputy City Administrator at the City of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Find her on LinkedIn or Twitter.

What I’m watching: A TED Talk – The Case for a 4 Day Workweek

What I’m working on: Just launched a shop for city employees to purchase Team Tosa t-shirts that they can wear to work as part of our Dress for Your Day policy. So fun!

What I’m reading: Information about a records retention system we are considering purchasing next year.

I was listening to a podcast recently with Andrea Gibson and she said something that resonated greatly with me:

“The only thing we can control in life is where we put our attention.”

This really made me reflect on work. Particularly, where I put my attention on any given day. Cities are complex organizations. At any given time, there are multiple critical projects underway in every city department, goals identified as priorities in our strategic plans, and multiple critical internal and external constituencies we need to engage. We are pulled in so many different directions at once. Yet, in order to be successful, we need to focus on what we can control and one area we can control is where we put our time and attention.

As a leader, where we spend our time and the meetings and events we attend, speak volumes to the organization about what is important to us. It can influence work in every department and helps employees understand our top priorities.

For me, the most important focus of my attention is on three things.

  1. The Common Council’s strategic plan
  2. The strategic plans for the departments I support (which align with #1)
  3. People

It is easy to get derailed or for an entire team to be derailed with the emergency or hot item of the day, week, or month (or let’s be honest, in government with bureaucracy), but we always need to pull attention back to the strategic goals and priorities of the organization. Our City Administrator talks about this in terms of what is transformational to the city or organization. The more time we as leaders spend focused on transformational items and the more time we spend in our meetings discussing those key, transformational initiatives with our teams, the more time everyone will spend on this critical work.

Ask yourself some questions to consider how you can spend more time on what is transforming your city for the better. What can you set aside? What can you delegate? What most needs your attention to ensure success? Consider ways to develop your agenda for the year to reflect transformational projects. After you have that agenda, ensure that you share it with your team.

Don’t forget or skip time for people. Investing in your team will pay dividends for your strategic work, succession planning, and crisis response. An item that my organization is not the best at is spending time with our front line employees. Direct and consistent interaction with front line employees is critical. Not only does it allow you to highlight the organization’s core values and transformational projects, it also enables two-way communication and we have a lot to learn from our employees about work and innovation. Time spent with front line employees builds trust, motivation, and understanding.

How to you go about ensuring your time is allocated to transformational projects? Some things that work well for me are:

  • Setting the agenda for the year
  • Communicating that agenda to the teams I support and interact with
  • Posting the agenda in a visible place in my office
  • Blocking out time for team meetings on my calendar
  • Blocking out time for strategic, transformational work on my calendar a few times each month

Other items to consider include how often your management team discusses your strategic plan and the progress they are making to complete it. Think about how you celebrate employees who are accomplishing critical milestones on transformational projects.

Remember, “The only thing we can control in life is where we put out attention.” Where do you need to put your attention at work? Have you set your agenda of transformational projects for 2023? If not, there is still time.

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