In Whom Should We Invest?

As I was perusing the forum board of a social media group today, I came across an interesting question from one of its members:

“What guidelines do you use in determining who you pour your life into?”

Pretty big question, right?  A potentially defining question, in fact.

Among the many thoughts this question prompted for me was that regardless of their positions, people often feel confusion, guilt, or uncertainty about the time or energy they invest in others.  Is it fair?  Is it enough?  Have I chosen correctly?  Am I making an impact?

Left unaddressed, these questions can continue for an entire career, if not a lifetime.  Unanswered, they can grow into self-doubt that affects other areas.  For example, if a person lacks the assurance that her efforts have helped others to grow, she might be less inclined to volunteer to train or coach others in the future.  If this is part of her role, she might be less enthusiastic, less willing to take risks, or further from the most innovative aspects of her profession.

For these reasons, feedback is critical.  How we spend our time, and with whom, can depend on several factors, but outcomes should always be among them.  Even qualitatively, a potential discerning question might be, “From what quarters does your most positive feedback come?”  Answering this question, and, importantly, owning the result, can help people allocate their investment in others wisely.  Everyone who coaches and mentors others has a sweet spot, an area of maximum effectiveness.  That is not to say anyone should not strive to be effective no matter who their audience happens to be, but each person will be better in some areas and with some people over others.  If someone receives more positive feedback and produces better outcomes from having invested in associates who have recently joined the organization than they do from working with those who are more tenured, then it is in everyone’s best interest (including the investor’s) to honor that.

A person’s own aspirations also provide an important filter in this discernment process.  For example, some people want to change the world one person at a time regardless of level or station in life, others want to influence only those who can influence others and maximize their potential impact. That filter will determine how one spends time not just in coaching, but in everything else as well.

A final word: Exceptions and missed opportunities will always exist.  Time spent worrying about them engenders guilt, and subtracts from gaining clarity about where to spend time investing.

Examine your feedback.  Own the result.  Consider your aspirations.  Move forward with confidence.

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