putting rails under the train

“Do the tracks imprison the train or set it free?” It’s a great question. Generally speaking, you could say the answer is a matter of perspective. But if you are talking about work-life performance, the answer is actually quite unequivocal.

I have become a big fan of this expression since first learning it from our friend and advisor, Dave Hubbard. To be honest, the first time I heard it, I had to think about it.

Two possible answers.

I could see where the rails were essential for the train to get anywhere. Yet, I could also see that the moment you lay down the rails, you’ve imprisoned the train to a single direction forward. What if the conductor changes his mind and wants to go somewhere else? No luck.

If you’re one who likes to explore, likes to discover the twists and turns of your journey one day at a time (perhaps you are a strong P in Myers-Briggs parlance), you might cry out “the rails imprison the train!”

One performance answer.

Regardless of your workstyle, personality, or perspective, if you are talking about how to move the train forward, harness it’s potential, and gain efficiency, speed, and momentum, there is but one answer.  The rails set it free.

Not convinced? What if we add that you can direct the rails anywhere you like?  You must simply commit to stay on those rails until you arrive at your destination.  The answer becomes clearer.

Consider Gallup’s famous Q12 engagement survey. Developed from over 30 years of validated study of employees and organizations, they identified the 12 essential questions that, if answered “I strongly agree”, suggest you have a workplace that attracts and retains high performers.

The first three questions are all about the rails:

1. I know what is expected of me at work.
2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.

They make it clear what I’m supposed to do. They equip me to get traction regardless of the terrain.  They keep me from getting distracted and veering off track, and they point me in a direction I’m best suited to go.

Rails = Clarity

What we’re talking about is clarity. Clarity of knowing what to do, how to do it, and why (or how it connects with my talents and purpose).  These are 3 of the 5 essential elements of The Greatness Method. We call them Actions, Purpose, and Focus…but loosely speaking, you could say we’re talking about “the rails”.

Actions = what are 3 to 5 actions you should do each day or each week
Purpose = who are you meant to be (talents + beliefs + influence)
Focus = precisely when and how will you get your actions done

Of course, once you get your rails identified, you still need to do the work. That’s why The Greatness Method also includes Rhythm and Accountability. It’s also why we talk about “bringing the train into the roundhouse” at least once a quarter to recover and reassess your direction, but we’ll talk more about that later.

For now, what about you and your team? Are you each set up with clear rails to run on?