I’m writing this post from a Starbucks near Destin, Florida. Our annual Spring Break trek to the beach, warm weather and family fun has begun.
One of the reasons we visit this particular location is that it is within a reasonable drive (about 12 hours) of our home. During a drive of that length, there are quiet moments when my mind wanders to the list of challenges and opportunities that reside in the world I’m leaving behind for a few days.
I’ve always found it amazing how differently things tend to look from a distance. Burning issues often cool when we step away. The urgency slows and we somehow manage to find that elusive personal Nirvana called “perspective.” During my drive yesterday, I mentally walked through at least a dozen items on my list and relished the opportunity to roll them around in my head. For me, these moments are my best for fresh ideas, strategic thinking and overall creativity. Why is It is so much easier to think expansively when away from home base? Maybe the more important question is: If it is easier to refresh perspective, generate new ideas, and be creative when we step away, why aren’t we doing it more often?
As leaders, we feel that we’ve got to be physically present to impact our teams. If we’ve got an office, that is where we need to be to stay involved with all that is happening. The problem is that your office lives in the world of the urgent. Much of what happens to you in the office is reactive, moment by moment decision making that is brought on by the needs, desires, and deadlines of other people: customers, employees, vendors. Countless articles reference how to manage your time by prioritizing tasks, triaging people, organizing email, and on and on and on. Many of these urgent items are critical. Decisions need to be made. People must be led.
Unfortunately, urgency does not always foster the best decisions or the best leadership and it can be particularly detrimental to strategic thinking. Leaders living in the moment are often bombarded with competing demands and are perpetually trying to discern the appropriate course of action while being pulled in many different directions. In Unleash Your Team – Remove the Backstop, I write about empowering your team with decision making authority and guidance while removing yourself from the moment to moment details. Things will happen without you, if you let them. You have to always ask yourself: where can I make the biggest impact? This doesn’t mean that you can’t be effective on lower priority items, it means that you aren’t adding as much value as you could be if you were focused on your high impact areas.
Back to Spring Break. With distance comes perspective. To a great extent, urgency leaves the picture. You aren’t as accessible so your team finds other ways to answer questions or get things done faster. In this zone, your mind shifts to bigger picture questions. You are freed to be more strategic, more creative and more expansive with your thinking.
Whenever leaving for a break from our work, we often think the critical element is to leave it all behind. Push it out of our head. Try to forget about it. Yes, it is important to let go of issues, clear our mind and relax. We all need to recharge our batteries. The reality is that you are a driven professional and that no matter how hard you may try, there is no such thing as leaving things completely behind.
My suggestion? Leave the urgency behind and let your mind wander to the more expansive elements of your thinking. Not only will it be productive for the company, it will help renew your energy and enthusiasm. The goal is not to remove all thoughts of work, the goal is to remove the ones that drain you and replace them with ones that energize you.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking “if it’s to be it’s up to me.” If you aren’t able to let go of the details for a few days, then maybe you don’t have the right people in place. Though we can’t live our lives in the zone of strategic thinking, leaders need to be able to step back from time to time and that only happens when things can be delegated. You must have a solid team to get things done so you can continue to look ahead.
For me, this vacation will serve to keep me fresh by putting some distance between me and the urgent. It will also provide me with a personal strategic retreat to consider some bigger picture possibilities and shift my thinking to the world of the strategic.
What are you doing to step back and re-frame your perspective?