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Firefighter or Effective Manager

We have a choice

4 May 2016

The world is changing fast. You can connect instantly and communicate anywhere and everywhere. Information is streamed on every gadget. In just a glance, we are totally lost in the quagmire.

Project deadlines, undone work, health issues, children's examinations, long drives to the office, long waits at the traffic signal, and financial hardships. The list goes on and on. More things to juggle than our hands can manage.

Whether we realize it or not, we live in an age of anxiety. Be we female or male, the nature of the anxiety is the same; it is a condition in which the mind is pulled in different directions. This results in an emotional state of distress that dominates our thoughts. It can be fueled by present circumstances or by fear of what could happen in the future.

It's basically a reaction to our circumstances, but it's also a choice. A reaction? A choice? Let me tell you a story of two sisters taken from a passage in the Bible (Luke 10:38-42):
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."
We can learn a valuable lesson from this passage. I can imagine that, before Martha complained to him, Jesus had been saying, "Do you know, there are many small children and aged old people without a proper meal a day; they die of starvation. But the dabbawala of Mumbai, the city's food deliverers, have an excellent delivery system of collecting hot food in lunch boxes from the residences of workers in the late morning; delivering those lunches to the workplace, using bicycles and the railway trains; and returning the empty boxes to the workers' residences that same afternoon. I want to reuse this delivery system to provide food for every hungry child and aged person, eradicate hunger, and bring them joy and happiness. Check whether we can set up a contract with the dabbawala." (This sounds like a product owner who sets the right expectations.)

How were our two sisters reacting to this idea? Martha was very good at hospitality. She had a long list of undone work (soup was not ready, bread not toasted, wine glasses and plates to be washed, table not set, etc.) going through her mind. The task board in her mind did not have work-in-process limits set, and she had a resource constraint to get all the work done. She did not have any insight into what Mary was hearing, and she approached Jesus to complain. (This sounds like a firefighting manager.)

What was Mary doing? In my imaginary realm, she was actively listening and clarifying his expectations; Jesus was teaching her prioritization. First thing's first. Focus on and execute the top priorities that have the greatest value. Mary, a woman of few words, actively listened to Jesus's words to understand his expectations so that she could get the bigger picture and rise up to the bigger challenges. (This sounds like an effective manager.)

How do you want to react in similar situations? Like Martha, who was overwhelmed, complained, and was hurt at the end of the day; or like the Mary, who was calm, composed, actively listening, and rose to the larger expectation? Martha's too many things at once, or Mary's focus to achieve the highest value goal? Let us make the better choice — Mary's way.

In every situation, we need to depend on our core values to guide us. The core values are like a marine compass; even during the wild storm, they will always show you true north. You can turn toward them and never go astray.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4 (3 ratings)


Tim Baffa, CSM, 5/4/2016 9:08:46 AM
Bharathi, if I could have given this a 6, I would have. Thank you for presenting the story of Martha and Mary in a new perspective.
Kingsley Monickam, CSP,CSM, 5/11/2016 7:44:34 AM
Thanks Bharathi for enlightening us on Priorities and Value with this Bible passage and making me post my first comment.
Kingsley Monickam, CSP,CSM, 5/11/2016 7:51:26 AM
Thanks Bharathi for enlightening us on Priorities and Value with this Bible passage and making me post my first comment.

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