December 10, 2023

Stop Juggling Elephants

Author Jones Loflin used the metaphor of a circus to describe how to think about work, self and relationships when speaking at NAVAIR's Leadership Day at Pax River.

Trying to get everything done is like juggling elephants  impossible, author Jones Loflin told more than 900 employees at NAVAIR’s Leadership Day Nov. 29 and 30 in Patuxent River, Md.

This interactive session, the third and final in a three-part series, specifically addressed solutions to the struggle of having too much to do. Loflin used the metaphor of a circus to describe how to think about work, self and relationships analogous to how a ringmaster thinks about the many acts in a three-ring circus.

He cited a six-step process to getting the most important things done and focusing your time and energy. Loflin demonstrated the steps using real-world examples, hands-on exercises and audience participation.

The six steps include:
1. Stop trying to juggle elephants.
2. Be the ringmaster.
3. Create the lineup.
4. Work with the performers.
5. Take an intermission.
6. Plan for the next performance.

If you keep trying to juggle “elephants”  that is, something you are trying to work through or accomplish  the result is that no one, including you, will be thrilled with the performance, Loflin explained. Because your work and personal “elephants” affect each other, attempting to juggle them could stifle creativity and impact productivity, your sense of accomplishment, your physical and mental well-being and your relationships.

To help prioritize and make choices, you need to be the ringmaster of the three major “rings” in your life: work/professional, self and relationships. While you may not control every ring and cannot be in all three rings at once, you can influence each ring.

“A quality circus has great acts in all three rings,” Loflin said.

Since there are limited resources for each ring, you must make the best use of each moment, directing your attention to the right ring at the right time. Define and clarify your purpose for each act you undertake, asking yourself what you want to specifically accomplish or achieve. “Think of the outcome and align acts accordingly,” he said.

Next, create the lineup that gets you more standing ovations. Prioritize your acts, which will help you focus and avoid making everything a crisis. Determine the timing of your acts based on your physical and emotional energy levels, deadlines and schedule.

To better manage interruptions and distractions, Loflin suggested using the 3-D test on each task: What can be Delegated, Delayed or Deleted?

Much like how the relationship between the ringmaster and the performers affects the success of the circus, you must work with your key performers to accomplish your team or department’s highest priorities. Every member is important and has to be fully engaged.

“Trust is built through rewards and feedback,” he said, citing the importance of consistently building the team and promoting timely communication. Timely, precise communication is also part of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s Executive Core Qualifications (ECQ), which define the competencies needed to build a successful federal corporate culture.

As with any good circus, you also need to take an intermission to refresh, refocus and rest. “Take the opportunity to give yourself a standing ovation,” Loflin said.

Finally, your circus is only as good as your next performance, so you need to plan ahead by identifying areas of improvement, gathering feedback on your current performance and measuring the results, he said.

In the end, Loflin said, you may find yourself saying, “May all my days be circus days.”

The event, with a theme of “21st Century Leadership: Stop Juggling Elephants and Start Being the Ringmaster,” was held at the River’s Edge Conference Center and via video teleconferencing at eight sites. The session was based on Loflin’s award-winning book, “Juggling Elephants,” a parable about one man’s search for solutions to balance his responsibilities without cracking under the pressure.

NAVAIR Deputy Commander Kalmen Leikach introduced the session by listing the tenets of being successful at NAVAIR, all of which tie into the ECQs and Loflin’s strategies:

“¢ Lead change by becoming familiar with NAVAIR’s mission and structure and your role within it.
“¢ Lead people through your ethics and have integrity in all you say and do.
“¢ Be a great communicator who is precise, concise and data-driven and who can convey complex material in simple terms.
“¢ Share your business acumen with your peers; become the go-to-person for your area of expertise.
“¢ Build coalitions and understand the team dynamic. “The team dynamic is a benefit wherever you go in NAVAIR, and it is critical for all positions of increasing responsibilities,” Leikach said.

“A good leader is always open to experiential learning,” said Gary Kurtz, NAVAIR assistant commander for Corporate Operations and Total Force, who introduced the Nov. 29 session. “Jones’ insightful programs make an impact instead of an impression because they regularly include humor, powerful examples and frequent audience interaction.”

Source: NAVAIR Headquarters

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