This week my family and I are moving. It’s a significant downsize in anticipation of my oldest daughter going off to college in a year. As a family of four, we’re transitioning from a 3BR+Den+Garage house to a 2BR+Den and no garage condo by the beach in Naples, FL. In preparation for the move, we’ve been “subtracting” a significant amount of stuff from our lives over the past few weeks–giving most of it away to Goodwill, or families whom we know can put it to good use.
In the context of leadership, this process brings to mind question that Janice Cunning and I frequently ask our clients: “what do we want to strip off (or leave behind), and what do we want to take on (or step into),” especially at the start of a new year. It a conversation that you can have with you and your team at any time, and represents the heart of strategic planning.
You may find the idea of subtraction counter-intuitive since our tendency is often to consider all that we want to be, do, or have. We find it easy to work on our action plans, goals, objectives, tactics, adding to them as time unfolds. I’m not making that process wrong. I believe it is quite helpful, especially when coupled with the question: “What do I intend to subtract ?” That’s right–SUBTRACT. More often than not, for us to advance confidently in the direction of our goals we need to unburden ourselves and let go of relationships, stories, practices, habits, and even material goods that no longer serve us on our path forward.
Many of you who follow my posts know that I am an avid non-fiction reader, hungrily devouring books from antiquity to the present. In the search for truth and wisdom, I enjoy learning from multiple masters–no matter what their angle (spiritual, psychological, physical, mystical, metaphysical, new age, etc.). A counter-intuitive (and challenging) subtraction for me is to limit the number of books I access through my Audible and Amazon accounts. Recently, I lost my Kindle, and instead of buying a new one I am choosing to use the local Collier County Library to borrow materials. That was a difficult choice (considering my addiction), which I hope will open up some new perspectives in the realm of my personal development.
As leaders in our personal and professional lives, I believe that subtraction can point us toward greater fulfillment, and I know that happiness does not come from adding more material or intellectual stuff to our lives.
You may be thinking, “Yes, I want less in my life so I can have more, but how do I do it?” George McKeown offers some helpful suggestions in his excellent book, Essentialism, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. According to McKeown, an essentialist:
- Exercises the power of choice
- Distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many
- Instead of thinking “I can do both,” asks “What is the trade-off I want to make?”
- Knows play is essential to spark creativity and innovation
- Makes sleep a priority
- Says yes to only the top 10% of opportunities
- Makes 1 decision that eliminates 1,000 later decisions
- Dares to say no firmly, resolutely, and gracefully
- Subtracts more to bring forth more
- Knows that if you have limits you will become limitless
- Celebrates small acts of progress
- Finds joy in the journey
And, yes. I am entirely aware of the irony involved in recommending that you read or listen to a book on subtraction 😉
David Langiulli is an executive coach and trainer who helps nonprofit leaders and their teams flourish, thrive, and get results.