How do I become truly effective?

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One of the best definitions of effectiveness I have come across is ‘getting the results you want in a way that enables you to get even greater results in the future’. This is about success that endures, is sustainable and is balanced in all areas of life and not just one part. That all sounds well and good, but achieving it is far from easy or straightforward.

There are three key elements to personal effectiveness:
– You know what the important things to be done are.
– You know how to do them
– You are actually motivated to do what it takes and they become habitual.

To understand this better it is helpful to reflect on Aesop’s fable of the goose who laid golden eggs. For a humorous, very inaccurate and somewhat tongue-in-cheek dramatisation of this do watch the 7 minute cartoon below:

Golden Yeggs (1950) by robert-farrell

The original story is about a poor farmer who one day discovers that his goose has laid a golden egg. …..

At first he thinks someone has played a practical joke on him. However, as he goes to throw the egg away he has second thoughts and takes it to be valued. Sure enough he is told the egg is of real gold! He can’t believe his good fortune. But that is only the beginning. From that day on the goose every day begins to lay a golden egg. Over time the farmer’s life is turned around and he becomes very wealthy.
However, with his increasing wealth also comes greed and impatience. The farmer finds himself unable to wait 24 hours for the golden eggs. The speed is too slow for him. His increasing wealth has led to more priorities and commitments. He needs to find ways to increase his wealth at a faster rate to maintain his increasingly rich lifestyle. In his greed he decides he will kill the goose and get all the eggs once and for all. Then he will finally have the security and contentment he longs for. But when he opens the goose he finds that it is empty! There are no golden eggs and now there is no way to get any more. The farmer in his foolishness has destroyed the goose that laid his golden eggs!

It was Stephen R. Covey who introduced me to this story as an example of how it is actually timeless principles that under-gird effectiveness. The reason this matters is that we tend to view effectiveness as about producing more golden eggs. In other words, the logic goes, the more you do and produce the more effective you are. Unfortunately this just means you get busier and can lose sight of your important priorities. (For more on the problem with this see Are You Being Efficient or Effective?)

What this simple story illustrates is how true effectiveness comes from just two basic components:
– what is produced (the golden eggs)
– and the capacity to produce (the goose).

If you focus on only results (golden eggs), but neglect the means by which those results come (the goose), you will damage your capacity to produce. On the other hand, by just concentrating on your source of production (the goose) without attention to results (the golden eggs) , you can quickly bankrupt yourself in any number of ways, be that financial, emotional, spiritual or relational.

Here is how Covey summarises this:
“Effectiveness lies in the balance – what I call the P/PC. P stands for production of desired results, the golden eggs. PC stands for production capability, the ability or asset that produces the golden eggs.”

While this is such a simple concept, I have found it very useful. So for example in any organisation or even in one’s own personal life we can simplify to two components:
– the tasks to be accomplished (golden eggs or production output)
– the relationships that lead to those tasks happening in the first place (the goose or production capability).

Any organisation needs to keep mindful of these two components. While it may be focused on producing more with less resources (something that is very topical in so many industries) there comes a point whereby increased production without attention to production capability leads to limiting, decreasing or even destroying further output.

Or in my own personal life, I have had to learn that just focussing on doing more without attention to my own personal reserves can lead to stress and burnout. This is also relevant to developing personal resilience.

What are your reflections, thoughts and comments on being effective in getting sustainable results in your own life?

2 thoughts on “How do I become truly effective?”

  1. Interesting – thanks. Makes me think of our public services here in the UK (health, education etc). Its one thing to apply a pay-squeeze to “get a more effective deal” but this ignores the effects of long term resentment and loss of loyalty. Or there again, we see in the Far East children being educated in the extreme – long hours of schooling into the evening even at a young age. That sets the bar for children and education systems all over the world – but what are the long term effects? Is it a case of short term effectiveness versus long term well-being?

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    This information is for educational purposes only, and is in no way intended to be personal medical advice. Please ask your physician about any health guidelines seen in this blog, as everyone is different in his or her medical needs.