Monday, June 17, 2024

The setting of the sail


Some time ago I was travelling in the countryside over a rather rough terrain. The driver was really stepping on the gas and the drive was becoming uncomfortable. I didn’t feel in safe hands anymore. Suddenly there was a hump in the road and the vehicle was air born for a moment before it bounced back hard to the surface. The driver worked very hard to keep the vehicle on the road. I had enough though and told him to slow down. I was very surprised when he answered loudly, while hanging on desperately to the steering wheel: “It is not me, it is the road!” I couldn’t believe what he had just said. What did he mean “It is not me …”, of course it was him! At the next opportunity to take a break, stretch our legs and have a coffee, I took the car keys off him and decided to drive the next part of the journey myself.
I am often reminded about this incident when I observe similar responses of people to the circumstances they find themselves in. There seems always to be something or someone else to blame when things are not going well. Some other person or condition is causing the situation we are in.
On the road it is the other drivers, at school it is the teacher or the test, at home it is the husband or the wife or the children. And in the business? It is the workers, or the administrator, or the tax collector, or the importer, the exporter, the forwarder, the government, the policy, the regulations, the internet, etc. Really? Is it normally somebody or something else or could it be that we ourselves are part of the problem? Let us look at this issue a bit closer. Could it be a cultural thing that we say that things happen to us instead of recognising that we play an active part in the situation? If that is so, we may need to change something here. I am not saying that culture is bad and needs to be abandoned, not at all. But if culture is standing in the way of us reaching our most important goals, assuming we have set our goals of course, then we may want to stop for a moment and try and see if things couldn’t be done in a more effective way.
In any case, many businesspeople blame their problems on other persons or external circumstances. They are not to blame themselves, they think. They think of themselves working so hard, shouting their instructions so loud, sweating so much. They find it difficult to accept that they may be making a mistake, that they are part of the problem themselves, that they are responsible.
Having responsibility is an intriguing concept. It literally means “having the ability to response”. Response to other people, to circumstances, to anything that comes our way. That ability to response is a skill that can be developed. Yes, the way we react is determined for a great deal by our culture and the way we have been brought up, the role models provided by our parents, teachers, bosses, leaders. But that does not mean that is the only way or necessarily the best way to response. Just because somebody else reacts in a certain way, doesn’t mean we have to repeat that behaviour, certainly not when it doesn’t seem to be effective, when it doesn’t change the situation for the better.
In other words, we are in a position to choose the way we response and if we base our responses on certain values and on principles, the chance is higher that our responses will have better results.
Responsibilities in running a business are many. The ability of the business owner or manager to response to the internal and external environment of the business will in the end turn the business into a poor, mediocre or successful business. There are choices to be made. How to respond for instance to developments in the market, policy changes, tax regulations, suggestions from workers, demands from clients? This is where you have the opportunity to set the standards and lead the company where you want it to go. To illustrate the point, I quote a poem from Ella Wheeler Wilcox:

One ship drives east and another drives west
With the self same winds that blow
“Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales
That tells us the way to go.
Like the winds of the sea are the ways of fate;
As we voyage along through life,
“Tis the set of a soul
That decides its goal,
And not the calm, or the strife.

Ton Haverkort

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