Self Help?

The sad death of Stephen Covey this week set off in me a change of thoughts that started with me thinking about the shelves of books I have at home. Among them are a fairly impressive number of what only can be termed Self Help books, Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” included. These are the books that were purchased during a period in my life I liked to call the “Be Smarter Project”. Or as my wife used to call it, the “BS Project”. The shelves are not arranged in any particular order, but if you want to find them just simply look for those books that don’t have the appearance of a broken or creased spine, well-thumbed pages, or rings of tea stains from over filled mugs. Unlike the Jeremy Clarkson books, Stephen King novels, or Keith Richards’s autobiography. They sit there as pristine and untouched as they day they were bought. They did for a while sit beside my bed, gathering dust, where I had placed them with every intention of fulfilling the Be Smarter project every night before I slept. After a while, the books were moved, I assume by my wife, after she clearly felt that the project, like the books needed to be shelved. There they have remained, untouched over time, much like my rowing machine, dumbbells and cycling helmet. All packed away neatly, an embarrassing, testament to good intentions, but nothing more than intentions. I had every intention of filling my brain with the knowledge of men like Covey. Putting into practice the kinds of ideas and maxims for life that they so eloquently laid out in their books, whilst sculpting a body to be like an Olympic 100m athlete.

So why did all these good intentions come to nothing? I was in my mid 20s. Building what I was hoping was going to be a career, saving for and furnishing a home, bringing up children and trying to be married, successfully like the way my parents are still. At the same time, I had all these great ideas about being the best I could in the world of business.

Like so many of us who are involved in HR and Learning, I spent all my time planning and trying to work on developing others and never felt that I was sharpening my own saw, as the late Mr. Covey talks about. I always use to hear that analogy that plumbers always have leaky taps at home because they spend all their time fixing everyone else’s problems and never seem to get around to their own. I was determined this was not going to be the same for this learning and development manager. There were simply just a whole load of more important things for me to try and achieve.

Will power is not, I have found, however an infinite resource. If you set too many tasks or yourself, and at the wrong time, all that will happen is you simply don’t give any of them the right kind of time and attention. Today, I love the works of men like Covey, Peters and Goldsmith, but I simply don’t take them home with me in volumes any more. I have more time at home now than I did before. I don’t have to be as concerned about all the things was before, in the same quantities, but for me it’s about finding the right time and place. I listen in the car to the audio books, or watch the videos, read the books over a sandwich at work. I also ensure that there is a learning opportunity dropped into every meeting we have. The sharing of knowledge doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and as good as much of these authors ideas are, they are really meant to be discussed and put into perspective. It’s only when that happens do they jump off the page and starts to have a life and real meaning.

I have also found that the best self-help books are the ones that talk about the things we all know are the right things to do, but don’t make the reader feel like a lesser human being for not applying these concepts. Lofty ambitions I have found can and do alienate.

Will Power is not, as I mentioned infinite, but love can be, and if you can through this kind of sharing make people who work with you and for you love what they do rather than fear the consequences, then you won’t need to rely on the will of your workforce.

– William Spindloe

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