what matters most

Do you know what matters most to you? Do you know what matters most to your colleagues and the people you want to influence? How important is this to your success as a leader?


Anne* is an energetic leader, the kind who enthusiastically jumps out of bed in the morning and is the first to arrive at the office. Like a lot of my clients, Anne loves her job but, as she took on more senior-level roles within her organization, she was becoming increasingly frustrated by her lack of ability to influence others and get the outcomes she desired.


Anne is a principles-driven leader. In other words, she has strong beliefs that there are right and wrong ways to do things. When Anne and I first started working together, she had equally strong beliefs that others should feel the same way and when they didn’t her default approach was to more forcefully push her agenda and dig in her heals. Not surprisingly, she wasn’t making consistent headway. 


As Anne and I started to dive into this issue, my goal wasn’t to change Anne and her beliefs but, instead, to help Anne uncover what was behind these believes. We all have underlying beliefs that inform how we see the world and we acquire them through a combination of relationships and experiences. As we dug into her beliefs it became clear that what mattered most to Anne was financial responsibility and fair treatment of people. Gaining this understanding of her motivations was a breakthrough for Anne as it gave her something concrete and meaningful to share with others when she felt compelled to stand her ground. Instead of saying, “this is the way it is”, Anne shared “this is important to me because…” In doing so, she opened the door for others to find common ground.


But we didn’t stop there. Once we uncovered what mattered most to Anne, we needed to understand what mattered most to others. Anne had one particularly challenging relationship with a peer – let’s call him Steve. As Anne and I explored this relationship, I asked her to consider what mattered most to Steve. I asked Anne to think back to the signs, words and phrases that signalled what was important to him. As Anne reviewed their interactions, it came to her: what mattered most to Steve was delivering on what he promised. It dawned on her that he wanted to be known as a man of his word and that failure to meet deadlines was not an option in his books. It became clear to Anne that Steve’s motivation to meet deadlines at any cost was butting up against her motivation to deliver on budget and protect the well being of her team. 


With this insight, Anne was able to engage with Steve in a more productive way. Instead of responding to Steve from a position of defence, she was able to lead from a position of empathy. When Anne and Steve met to discuss critical issues, she started by acknowledging how important it was to Steve that they deliver on time. She created context that Steve could relate to, which opened the door for her to share how important it was that they deliver within budget and create a sustainable work environment for her people. Anne has started to see some shifts in how Steve responds to changes that impact deadlines. And she, herself, is more open to negotiating solutions that allow Steve some wins while still protecting what matters to her.


When you begin to understand what matters most to you and those around you, you increase the likelihood of finding common ground. That doesn’t mean you will necessarily get to a place where you are in complete agreement – certainly not all the time. But you can get to a place where you can create a range of possibilities and options both (or multiple) parties can live with in order to move things in the direction they need to go. This is what successful leadership looks like.


Call me on 519 831 1536 to find out how coaching can help you become a more effective leader.


*Names and some organization details have been changed to protect the privacy of my clients.