I don’t think I have ever had just one important responsibility to manage. Not only has my entire adult life been an exciting journey of interesting projects and stimulating positions, I have found myself having multiple responsibilities and roles occurring simultaneously. How this has been a recurring reality in my life is the subject of a different conversation. But as a result of it happening quite frequently, I have found myself having to answer this question perhaps more than any other: “How do you wear so many different hats?” Somehow the concept of “wearing different hats” has become the symbol of choice to characterize different aspects of busy people’s lives.
But this characterization has always troubled me a bit. The idea of wearing different hats always conjures images in my mind of having different personalities or different identities. And I have always worked hard to be the same person in whatever role I was in. Once a foreign diplomat expressed intrigue when he learned that I had served a Secretary of State of New Jersey while simultaneously serving as Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Somerset, New Jersey. His exact remarks were these: “So much for separation of church and state. You were the church and the state at the same time.” And so many have asked me that same question about those years of my life.
Or the question is sometimes put like this: ”How do you balance all of your roles?” To the “hat” question my response is always the same: “I only have one head and so I can only wear one hat!”. My point in that answer is that I never considered the challenge to be the wearing of different hats. Rather, I always believed that the task has been to wear the same hat in different places. The priority should always be to be authentically oneself and unashamedly authentic in every environment we find ourselves. Once we start changing hats, I am afraid that we will get caught being one type of person in one place and different a different person in other places.
But the balancing question is fair. It seeks to probe more deeply into the process of handling multiple roles with integrity. One need not be in two important public roles to have this challenge. We all have multiple tasks, role and goals to juggle. And therefore we all need a process for effectively managing those tasks and roles. The key word for developing this process is priorities. If we have a systematic way to determining our priorities, we will be able to follow Steven Covey’s (“7 Habits of Highly Effective People”) advice and spend most of our time working on matters that are important but not urgent.
I discovered that I had been using a process that I never realized I was using for setting priorities. It is a “bracket” process - like brackets for an athletic competition. I describe this in Chapter 8 of a wonderful book “Roadmap to Success.” This approach to priority setting functions like a sports tournament where players or teams are placed in brackets. The winner of the first round goes on the play the winner within their section of the bracket and so on. When we have multiple roles, we have multiple activities “competing” for our time and attention. Before we begin, if we place our list of possible commitments into “brackets” we can see which one wins over the other by determining which is most important. If we do this in writing, it does not take more than a few minutes to have a written list of things to do with their ranking in the order of importance. You can then assign time to each task as needed and experience stress free pursuit of multiple goals. And you will only need one hat!
Action item: Try using the bracket approach to determine what your priorities are for the rest of this month.