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Finding your way in the fog

Path to success

Græme Gordon, Executive Director, Praxity

How do you reach a goal when the path isn’t clear? Graeme Gordon, Executive Director of Praxity Global Alliance, offers a route to success.​

I know it sounds like a cliché but a funny thing happened when walking my dog in the fog. With visibility down to less than 10 metres and nothing to see except the trees in our local woods, my mind started to wander.

I remembered a sermon a minister had made some 60 years ago, which I had actually listened too. It was about two brothers who were on a beach one day and had a bet as to which of them could walk in the straightest line. The sand would mark their progress and they got their mother to decide on the winner. The more studious and cautious younger boy walked forward in short steps, taking care to place one foot in front of the other. The older brother looked up, studied his surroundings and marched off, quite fast, to the finish.

Walking in a straight line 

When the younger brother finally got to the finishing point, they all looked back over the tracks made in the sand and agreed that the older brother, who had marched to the finish, had walked in the straightest line. “But how?” asked the younger brother. “Simple,” said the winning brother. “I looked up and saw that the lighthouse was directly in front of us. So, having checked there was nothing in the way, I kept my eyes on the lighthouse and walked straight towards it until I got here.” 

The moral, of course, being that if you set yourself a goal and check your path, then the straightest way to reach the goal is to keep it in sight.

All very well I thought, as I continued my walk in the fog, but as any military man or business man knows, the best plans are for nothing when ‘events’ take over. Ask yourself how many budgets you have made which had to change during the course of a project and eventually bore no resemblance to the final costs.

Responsive solution

This apparent contradiction is exactly what managers face every day in business. The solution lies, I believe, in adopting a management style that turns this contradiction into a positive. A focused yet responsive approach enables us to set a goal and work towards it while being prepared to make important changes along the way:

• Select the goal you want to achieve with care. It may appear out of reach but should not appear totally unrealistic.

• Plan for everything you can imagine as being realistically possible but also be ready to change track if needed due to ‘events’ (otherwise known as Secretary Rumsfeld’s ‘unknown unknowns’).

• Give yourself milestones or interim targets where you stop and review your progress to date and re-evaluate the ‘budget’ and potential ‘events’ going forward.

• Remember that while every task needs its detail orientated people, and that they need to keep you up to date on their progress, you may need to get them to ‘look up’ and realise that certain details or tasks are not relevant to the overall goal.

In conclusion let me tell you about the end of my walk. About 40 minutes after starting and being fairly sure I had followed the somewhat faint path I had set out on, I got to the top of a small rise where there was a break in the fog. Straight ahead of me I saw an illuminated reindeer. Not as odd as it may sound, as this was one of the illuminations I had put on my home as part of our Christmas decorations.  The reindeer guided me and Merlin (my dog) home to the warmth and to dinner. I had reached my goal.