Leaders need vital information about what is going on right now.
Do you really know what’s going on?
Although many leaders feel enormous pressure to “know everything,” and many act as if they know everything, leaders can often be the last to know.
Surrounded by minions, protected by barricades, and taking the elevator straight to the C-Suite, leaders can become isolated from the real world, and may not even know what is going on in their own organization. It can be lonely at the top.
Some leaders also have trouble noticing what is really going on inside themselves. In other words, they have trouble finding a quiet moment to check in with their real feelings and needs. This may be due, in part, to the personality profile of the traditional leader: confident, strong-willed, focused on externals, responsible for others, chasing dreams, and prioritizing action and achievement. These traits, no matter how valuable, are not particularly conducive to quiet periods of reflection or checking in with how you really feel.
Perhaps this is why so many high flyers desperately need help: they have no idea how to land. In my work with leaders in academic medicine, for example, I have been told by many senior physicians and leaders of medical schools that, despite having a demanding life of scientific research, patient care, and guiding their institutions through major transformations, they were never taught self-care.
Many leaders also have trouble soliciting or accepting feedback. Some leaders can even develop a kind of willful blindness. And some leaders get so immersed in the culture of their own company — or the sound of their own message — that they fail to see disruptions coming from outside.
Clearly, all of this makes leaders vulnerable to a fall. Indeed perhaps the greatest challenge most leaders face is not lack of vision but lack of reality. They lack the ability to check in with what’s really happening here and now, to become grounded in the present moment.
This is why, once you have decided to invest in the moment, your first move is to learn how to take a “power pause.” In a power pause, you momentarily suspend thoughts of past or future—where you are running from or rushing to—and let yourself land in the present.
Think of this as like taking your own pulse. In that moment, you escape from the tyranny of the urgent. You say to yourself, “Before rushing there, let me pause for a moment here.” And then, having paused, you ask, “So, what’s really happening, here and now?”
You can also think of this as doing a reality check. Of course, you may not like what you discover, but that’s not the point. The point is that you have decided you really want to be grounded in reality, to know what’s going on, here and now. And you realize that this is essential if you want to prevent a crash landing later on.
Once you have invested in learning this skill, you will notice benefits to your health and well-being very quickly. In fact, one chief executive told me that even his introductory practice of One-Moment Meditation lowered his blood pressure—in under a minute.
This practice will give you much more than health and well-being, however. It will give you a “pattern interrupt” — the opportunity you need, as a leader, to get some feedback, check your position, clarify your vision, and re-calibrate your goals. It will help you verify that your actions are really in accord with your values, and help you be more internally aligned.
You can even use a “power pause” to transform the organization you lead. Indeed, perhaps the most important thing you can do as a leader is get in the habit of taking the pulse of your organization. Make it part of your job. This could mean taking time to analyze your current position, going for a walkabout on the shop floor, opening up a “big picture” conversation, or simply gathering some people together to ask, with an open mind, “What’s happening?”
When done with integrity, this simple action can dramatically transform an organizational culture. You may identify critical vulnerabilities before they become fatal flaws, or get new ideas that will pay big dividends later on.
So, whether you want to build a thriving business, or you want to ensure that your career is on course, investing in the moment helps you settle down before speeding up. It helps ensure that you are starting out in the right place, and on the right foot.
Think of it this way: Imagine you are starting a life-changing journey right now. You are focused on where you’re going, so you enter your destination into the satnav. But the satnav also needs to know your current position. It can’t help you get where you’re going if it doesn’t know where you are right now. Everything starts from here.
Read the next article in this series: Create Calm
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