‘I don’t have time like you for all this coaching, reading and networking stuff. In fact, if you were as busy as I am, you wouldn’t either.’ It’s a common refrain from leaders and managers who feel so time and work pressured that they can’t find space to pause, reflect or think. The more optimistic will say, ‘When things settle down…when we just get through this change…then I’ll do it.’ And yet, somehow, things never do settle down…and change follows change. And they never do do it.
Steve was a senior leader in an international organisation. We sat with a rare coffee and he looked drained, exhausted. ‘I can’t keep this up. I’m working long hours and things still stack up. What am I supposed to do?’ The idea he held in mind what that if he just worked harder, worked longer, he would be able to reduce, control and make progress with his work, finish it. It’s an understandable belief, a belief that strains to provide a glimmer of hope, yet so often it’s basically - wrong. Illusion.
I shared an image of a huge pile of sand, Steve digging away with a teaspoon at the bottom. No matter how committed he was, no matter how hard or fast he dug, no matter how skilfully he did it, sand would continue to tip in. There is no end, especially as the world is adding sand to the top of the pile faster than he can ever remove it. Yet there is a solution. It means stepping back, praying, reviewing, reflecting, reprioritising, renegotiating – in a nutshell, making choices rather than just doing.
The paradox, of course, lays in making time to do this. Yet, as one of my leader colleagues commented today, ‘A pit stop doesn’t mean slowing down’. It’s about creating optimal space to breathe, recover, invite challenge, test assumptions, find perspective, explore ideas; in other words, to safeguard just enough time for the proverbial dust to settle to see clearly again. This is where things like coaching, reading and networking can prove so valuable. What do you do to take your pit stops?
Nick is a psychological coach, OD consultant and trainer, specialising in critical reflective practice.