Early in my career I had a fantastic manager who would keep on asking “what are we managing to”? I hadn’t heard this asked before and it took me a while to understand what his question really was about. Weren’t we all trying to build a great company and trying to get things done? What do you mean what are we managing to? We have a ton of work and it’s all critical so why are we asking such a silly question? It took me a while but I’ve found this concept of “managing to” to be a foundational and critical component to strong leadership and management.
So what was he talking about? Each moment the actions you are taking end up having an influence on what comes after it. Ideally there is some notion of what your intent is and having your actions align with your intent is an important concept if you want to be able to direct what sort of impact you are having on the world. If you aren’t sure why you are doing something or what you are trying to get done, I find it incredibly helpful to pause and ask what you are trying to manage to. What is it that you are trying to bring about? Is what you are doing really serving that?
When you ask yourself this question you are forcing yourself to change your frame of reference. You are popping back up the stack and orienting yourself. This allows you to identify what you are doing that doesn’t serve you and what does serve you. Without asking something to change your frame of reference you will likely end up being dragged around by with your fleeting attention or whatever problem tends to crop up in front of you. This is similar to why we set goals, but asking what you are managing to gives you the space to pop your head up and see if what you are doing makes sense or not.