When I was a junior staff in the public service, I often try to get every single thing aligned to my ideals and get rather upset when things don’t go in that direction. For example, I believed that as a public servant, our goal was to serve the public. But often, there were overriding management and leadership priorities that could detract from that even though those actions were trying to serve overarching policies which were supposed to serve these people.
Of course, I was rather disappointed and I came up with this catchy phrase for the younger people who were rather disillusioned by the jobs they had, “you thought you were working for a cause but actually you’re just working for a boss”. Yet as I mature and grew, I came to recognise that because we don’t have unlimited resources, we need to develop strategies. Strategies mean picking your battles in order to win the war. And by focusing resources and coordinating your actions, you are able to move towards your goals more efficiently.
But understanding that is insufficient; there’s a need to know which battles to pick. It has to do with being extremely clear what are the fundamental problems and issues to deal with. For example, in public service, there are fundamental challenges in the society we have to deal with that may or may not seem like we’re serving the public upfront in a single case. We may have to choose not to help a single person in order to focus our resources on dealing with more fundamental challenges.
For example, there may be a lot of good in helping a single small business to expand and grow but often, the expansion of a larger business can create more jobs and greater spin-offs whereas the single small business might just enrich a single person.