the best leadership advice – slow down and stop!

“Find the rhythm where people can move with you or you’re going to be stuck doing everything yourself.”

I know I came across that statement when I was reading The Zen Leader, by Ginny Whitelaw, but it has more meaning for me this morning. Having just returned from a week vacation, I was in high gear yesterday – churning through emails, doing laundry, cleaning house, getting food back in the fridge – primed and ready to return to today’s work with full force and vigor. While that kind of energy is surely useful for hammering through mundane tasks, as a leader it can leave everybody in your wake.

It seems contradictory as a leadership quality, but some of the best advice I ever got as a leader was to “slow down.” There is a rhythm to things I missed for many years. I was the “white tornado,” for those of you who remember that advertising phrase – with an ability for multi-tasking that allowed me to do even more. But as I moved into management roles, I found this same kind of energy didn’t work anymore. People couldn’t keep up. “People get into a refractory state to protect themselves from a whirlwind leader, while the leader gets frustrated that messages aren’t being heard, delegation isn’t working and people aren’t following,” states Dr. Whitelaw. Here are two ways to get yourself and everyone with you in sync and they both require you to do one thing – slow down.

“What do you do when your iPhone shows a low battery?” Ginny asks a group of leaders. “Plug it in and recharge it,” they say. “What do you do for yourself when you’re at low charge?” “Keep going!” they laugh. But they get the point. Drive and recovery is not only necessary to maintain our own energy, it’s crucial for engagement as well.

So, what’s our own equivalent to plugging in or recharging? It varies by individual, but because energy comes through the body, we have to do something physically renewing. The Zen Leader recommends as a best practice to take short 2-minute breaks every 90 minutes or so, with a longer 30 minute break for exercise or meditation every day. The mini-breaks could be anything from doing some shoulder rolls in your chair to stepping outside for a little walk around the building. If you need some ideas, there is a whole list of suggested mini-breaks and renewing activities you can download here. The important thing is that you establish this rhythm, or pulse. Stretch and release. Drive and recover. “Pulsing keeps you in a state of fresh activation.”

There is another kind of rhythm that’s a little more subtle, but is equally useful – the rhythm of the day. It’s a little harder to sense, but if you slow down and stop for a minute or two, you can usually pick it out. What does it feel like to you? I find it easier to associate it with a musical instrument. Does it feel like a slow bass drum… an acoustical guitar… or a lively violin? “Pick out the rhythm and pace yourself to it and you’ll find your energy going much further.” Those around you will be more inclined to follow when you are all moving to the same beat.

Slowing down also allows you to see things that you might otherwise miss. Like a speeding train, where the landscape moves past you so fast that the details get blurred, so too can your own work environment. When you slow down, you notice things that you cannot see when moving at breakneck speed. Greater awareness leads to better decision making. It also allows us to see the signposts along the way – those helpful insights that show us how to more easily navigate through life, solve a problem or turn a vision into reality. Give yourself the opportunity to see them.

So, slow down and STOP – if only for a few minutes. You’ll be rewarded in many ways.

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