If at first you don't succeed? 'Try to hide your astonishment.' (Harry Banks); 'Hide all the evidence that you ever tried!' (Billy Collins)
There are things we can do, and there are things we are willing to do; and there is a great deal of difference between the two. I could be, for instance, capable of doing a particular job well but have absolutely no commitment to do so. I could, conversely, throw myself wholeheartedly into a job that I’m hopelessly incompetent at. If we like grids, we can draw two axes with can do/can’t do as one polarity, and willing to do/not-willing to do as the other. It makes a great, simple tool to use in e.g. recruitment and selection; performance management and development; talent and career planning.
I worked with an organisation that used ‘ready, willing and able’ as a core talent management tool; a variation of a standard performance vs potential matrix. Ready meant ‘can do’ (as above) and able meant ‘wider life and work circumstances-permitting’. It opened up some valuable and creative conversations when leaders and team members met to compare and contrast insights, aspirations and ideas on possible ways forward. The ‘able’ dimension also drew broader cultural, contextual and systemic factors into the frame: influences that lay beyond individual can-do and will-do alone.
In my experience, the ‘will-do’ dimension, which incorporates e.g. motivation, determination and perseverance, often proves vital. It taps into beliefs, values and character and sifts out, ‘I would love to do this, in principle’, from, ‘I am willing to do whatever it takes (within legal-ethical boundaries) to succeed.’ It’s also the aspect that many leadership, recruitment, coaching and training conversations pay least attention to; assuming that e.g. goals, experience, qualifications, knowledge and skills are enough. How do you ensure traction? How do you test, nurture and help sustain the critical ‘will’?
Get a grip
‘What are you willing to take responsibility for?’, ‘What are you willing to commit to?’, ‘What are you willing to do?’ These are important questions in leadership and coaching. After all, people may appear to agree or give passive assent to all kinds of things, especially if they believe that ‘Yes’ is the correct answer in that culture or context. It doesn’t necessarily mean they will do it or, perhaps, that they will do it e.g. in the spirit or timeframe or to the standard hoped for. Half-hearted efforts are sometimes worse than not-do, especially if they result in poor quality or dangerous short cuts.
Our willing-ness touches on deep beliefs, values, intention and motivation. If I am willing to do something, assuming I am able to do it too, it points towards a choice, a decision, an action, a behaviour. It’s the energy behind movement, the driving force that makes something tangible happen. We can often sense the ‘will’ emotionally and physically, a mysterious inner dynamic that propels us forward. It’s like shifting a car into gear, releasing the clutch, feeling that pull. Without the will, the best thoughts and ideas may stay in-principle and never become outworked in practice.
This is the notion behind John Whitmore’s W (Will) in GROW and David Clutterbuck’s 4th I (Intention) in 4xIs in coaching. If we stop simply at, ‘What actions will you take?’, we risk a person drawing up an action list, a list of actions-in-principle. The ideas generated here may stay at head level and not touch the spirit or galvanise the soul. ‘What matters most to you in this?’ and, ‘What would make this worthwhile for you?’ tap into values and emotions. Moving from there to, ‘So - in relation to that, what are you willing to take responsibility for?’ creates traction, momentum and commitment.
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