I have a complicated relationship with leadership development books and leadership conferences.
I read half a dozen leadership books and attend a handful of leadership development conferences each year. I’m passionate about lifelong learning, personal reflection, and the power of stories and fresh thinking to challenge my status quo. However, I find myself thinking, “This is pretty obvious stuff. Why am I spending all this time and money learning about things I already know I need to be doing?”
It was one of many Saturday errands. My teenage girls and I pulled into the Goodwill donation line behind a couple in their late 50s who were making half a dozen trips between their van and the doors with what looked like the leftovers from an estate sale. Impatient, I climbed out of my car to carry my bags to the door just as I saw the man in front of me lift an Underwood #5 typewriter out of his van to give away. A gasp of excitement and panic filled my car as my typewriter-obsessed daughters squealed, “Mom, ASK HIM FOR THAT TYPEWRITER!”
Though I am impatient, I am not usually quick to speak. This is both a blessing and a curse. There was a split second of opportunity before this rare treasure was lost to us.
By nature, I’d prefer to completely avoid conflict. To me it feels like walking with other people through a minefield, either by force or by choice. In some ways, it is. Navigating conflict requires courage and is profoundly vulnerable.
We know that avoiding conflict at work makes us sick, damages creativity and diminishes productivity and morale. One study by CPP, Inc. found that 1 in 4 employees reported illness or taking sick days due to workplace conflict. More than one-third said that conflict resulted in someone leaving the company, either through firing or quitting. The losses and costs add up quickly.
Neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi found himself diagnosed with terminal cancer at age 35 with months remaining in his residency. As he and his wife sat across from his oncologist, she asked him to think though his values so he could make the most of the uncertain amount of time he had left to live. While I hope none of us will ever have to have that conversation under those circumstances, all of us live with the same questions and wrestle with expanding and contracting timelines – some which seem more certain than others. I’m convinced that our focus on legacy, impact and leadership development shouldn’t wait until the last decade of our careers.
Recently I had the opportunity be with a small group of folks to hear from Alan Fadling, author of The Unhurried Life. We had an interesting dialog about how hurry drives us to anxiety and burnout as leaders. I had to laugh when one woman shared that her company’s word for the year is Velocity. Yikes.
The clock is ticking on 2016. December can be an intense month with 2017 beginning to peek over the horizon. As a leader the best gift you can give yourself, your work, and your staff is time to think and reflect. This is not an optional luxury for the rare few. It’s a ninja move that gives you a strategic advantage.
Lately I’ve had three experiences that have led me to the same conclusion: it’s time to step up my game as a leader…
I looked back to the other side of the crosswalk I’d just rushed through. The rest of our group was still on the other side. Their faces reflected annoyance, impatience, and disappointment. I knew I had been pushing it to rush across the wide South Chicago intersection, and I thought others would be willing to do the same. I was a college sophomore in an urban immersion experience. In that intersection, I experienced a defining leadership moment.
We had great intentions when we moved our young and growing family into a tough, inner city neighborhood. We were going to be part of the solution. We invested 10 years of our lives there. And boy do I have some stories.
Here’s the thing. With all the good that we did, something was increasingly missing. It took ten years of living there and three years living other places to figure it out.
I’m pretty sure I was awake for almost every hour of the first 6 weeks of our oldest daughter’s life. As a brand new parent entering the uncertain and sleep-deprived world of caring for a newborn, I still recall the distinct and visceral feeling of what we call the Neutral Zone. This change plunged us into a transition – the ending of one stage of life and the beginning of another. In between the Ending and the Beginning is the Neutral Zone: a place where one is not quite acclimated and thriving in the new normal and is definitely no longer in the role of the past. Honestly, the Neutral Zone can really stink. But it doesn’t have to.