I recently happened to catch an interview that Dan Rather was doing with Billy Ray Cyrus. Billy Ray said that one of his dad’s greatest lessons to him was, “if you don’t know what to do, stand still.” That’s not only a good lesson in life – it’s a great lesson in strategic leadership in your business.
Many years ago, one of my greatest mentors told me something similar: “Most people don’t take enough time out of their day-to-day business functions to simply THINK.” He explained that on a regular basis, he made time to get his cup of coffee, go out and sit on his deck, and spend time thinking about his business challenges and how to resolve them. Thinking about what strategies we needed to implement and when. Thinking about whether we had the right talent in the right positions, whether the business was structured most effectively.
He makes space to simply think. He booked it as part of his daily routine. And when he applied the outputs of that time to leading our company, his strategic leadership was more stable and effective.
Are you making time to stand still and think? It’s a challenge! Between email, social media, daily job functions, family demands –when is there time to stop? If you don’t book that time, it won’t happen.
Instead of making this intentional time, we often operate according to what I call “bumper management.” Envision the bumper cars you used to ride at the fair: you go that way until you bump into something, then immediately change direction and go another way. Whoops, that didn’t work – let’s try something else.
A lot of business management decisions get made the same way – reacting to what we’ve bumped into, what’s right in front of us. Little to no time is spent standing still and listening to our inner voice or sitting down to strategize out a solution. Just fire, shoot, aim. For senior leaders, this can translate into a lot of wasted time, squandered resources, and missed opportunities. By reacting in the moment, we lose the strategic vision and therefore aren’t using effective strategic leadership. This can be the difference between growth and success or stagnation and failure.
It has a huge impact on employees as well. One of my coaching clients was recently expressing her frustration with her senior management. Every day she walked into work, she had no idea what direction they wanted to send her that day. The goals and direction changed constantly. It confused her, caused serious morale issues with her team, and no one had a clear direction on the mission or what they should be trying to accomplish.
While there are occasional issues that are “crisis” issues and require immediate action, many issues can sit in that space of standing still. This allows you to create mental clarity on what the next step should be.
Members of our EWF Forums often tell me this is one of the greatest values of their Forum participation: the time to step away and think. The process of presenting issues and getting focused forces members to stand still and think, even when they’re not aware they need to. One of our EWF Forum members told me that as she approached her turn to present an issue to strategize in real-time, she didn’t think she had anything to present. In fact, she resisted presenting at all. However, as she went through the process with the facilitator and stood still long enough to think past her overwhelming workload, she had an epiphany: there was a root cause to her overwhelming workload – one that was affecting her entire team so much that she was about to lose high performers (and potentially herself!). Standing still opened an entirely new perspective for her.
So this week: If you don’t know what to do, stand still.