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Multitasking for Business Owners: A Study in Juggling Elephants


Reginald Tucker

"Don’t strive for balance in your life—it’s unrealistic." That was the sobering advice that Jones Loflin, renown speaker and corporate trainer, offered attendees at the 2008 NASF Management Conference in Los Cabos, Mexico, last month. Instead, Loflin suggests, business owners and operators, team leaders, and laymen alike should concentrate on mastering the art of managing priorities as life’s situations dictate.

“Balance is defined as a static state, which means ‘unchanging,’ ” Loflin said. “It’s not about finding balance; it’s about deciding which area to focus on at a given time.”

Comparing our daily commitments, responsibilities, and challenges to “managing performers” in a three-ring circus—a play on the title theme of a book he co-authored with Todd Musig (Juggling Elephants: An Easier Way to Get Your Most Important Things Done Now, Penguin Books, 2007)—Loflin described the business owner as the “ringmaster” who orchestrates a complex set of activities. Loflin recommends company leaders, as ringmasters of their respective circuses, line up their actors to achieve a particular goal or goals through strategic planning and preparation, not impulse. But even he admitted that it’s a lot easier than it sounds.

“Look at your own situation as a circus,” Loflin asked attendees. “Who are the performers that need to do better?” Business leaders, he noted, can help performers do their best by clearly identifying the purpose of the goal before the performance can begin. In other words, focusing on the right act at the right moment. “A good ringmaster always aligns the act with a purpose,” he said.

Effectively communicating that purpose to employees, Loflin noted, is absolutely critical to the success of any endeavor. Success also means getting all team members to buy in—which is where things can get a little dicey. “If you were an animal trainer, and you never corrected bad behavior, you would get eaten alive,” Loflin remarked. “With employees, if they’re performing at a safe level that won’t draw criticism, then they’re not going to grow.”

At the same time, Loflin said it’s equally important to note that the performers in the circus look to the ringmaster for leadership and direction. To quote a line from the book, “The ringmaster has the greatest influence on the success of the circus.” To that end, one of the chief responsibilities of the ringmaster is developing a game plan to bring about the desired result. And that means knowing what questions to ask in order to affect the outcome.

Loflin, looking to drive home that point by applying the analogy of a performance ïntermission, posed a question to attendees: “Ask yourself, what do you want the second half of your circus to look like?” Fair question, in my mind. After all, it is your show.

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