During the last 30 days, I’ve had a couple of time periods in the office when I have chosen to push back from the piles of work on my desk, and to stare out the window. Looking east, I can see that the warm winds from Kansas are turning the grass to green. I can see the daffodils and tulips pushing up through the fresh layers of mulch I spread on the flower beds a couple of weeks ago. I can see the rhubarb breaking ground and the maple trees flowering. Spring has returned to the midwest, and the land is reawakening to new shapes, sounds, and colors of the season.
I have chosen to take these moments of quiet reflection for a specific reason. With the massive amount of complexity that is taking place in the nation at this time period, I have met with numerous leaders during the last 60 days who are overwhelmed, deeply concerned, and very troubled by the current course of human events. They want to continue to make a difference as a leader and they are equally wanting their organization to make a difference in the lives of those they serve. But, between the pace of change, a rampant case of decision fatigue in the midst of uncertainty, and an overwhelming desire to work on the organization and not to get sucked into the weeds of daily crises and daily reactions to crises, they struggle to get everything done and they struggle to maintain perspective. Some have asked me privately during executive coaching sessions, “What can I do to regain a sense of balance, clarity, and focus?”
Now the typical consultant answer would be to focus on the creation of strategy, talent development, and the maintenance of a healthy senior leadership team. And, in most cases, this would make a major difference in getting the organization back on track. However, I am not always one who gives the typical answers or asks the typical questions. Recently, I have shared the following.
First, remember the famous Tolkien quote: “Those who wander may not be lost.” So, when was the last time you stepped away from your desk and gave yourself permission to wander?
The response has always been a quizzical look to this idea, and then the asking of another question, “What do you mean?”
As I explain, back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, people were encouraged to do MBWA, i.e. management by wandering around. I’ve been around long enough that I can remember this ancient history first introduced by Tom Peters. It was a hot trend at the time.
In simple terms, we were encouraged to step away from our offices as managers and leaders, and to get out into our organizations. We were encouraged to meet our staff, to catch them doing things right, and to build relationships with them.
Furthermore, we were suppose to have open doors and to walk through them to where the real action was taking place, namely the interaction between the person served and the person serving. We were to get our feet on the ground and to see if the mission was being lived daily, or to discover if it was just another document hung on the walls and laminated in plastic.
Now I know that time is a major issue these days for most people in management and leadership positions. People are feeling pressed to get everything done. And e-mail surely has not made things easier. The promise of the 30 hour work week has not materialized. Instead, we are swamped by being copied on every little thing, and overwhelmed by massive amounts of trivia.
But this morning, I think we need to step away from the computers and to quit trying to lead and live at the speed of software. Instead, we need to embrace the perspective that Michelangelo had, namely that inside every block of stone or marble dwells a beautiful statue.
At times like these, our jobs as leaders is to step away and go to where the mission is real.
We need to wander again with a purpose.
We need to contemplate the un-carved block.
We need to seek the beautiful statue within the stone.
We need to witness the organization’s core purpose in action.
We need to sit and stare out the window, reflecting on all that is happening.
We need to rediscover silence.
We need to embrace possibility in the midst of change.
We need to find our hearts, our passion, and our original love for the work we do.
And then we need to give ourselves permission to rekindle this fire.
We need to rediscover burning brightly rather than just burning out.
We need to return to carving the statue rather than simply sweeping up the dust and shavings.
We need to become purpose driven rather than simply driven.
We need to become better people committed to serving other people.
We need to find the meaning within the work and not just find more work.
This week, I encourage all of us to carve out some uninterrupted time for in-depth reflection. It is time to rekindle hope, perspective and new possibilities.