Most leaders don’t lapse out of laziness or incompetence. More likely the reason is that increasingly anything that is not “urgent” doesn’t find its way onto their radar. Our observation is that often both learning from the past and anticipating the future are left on the “when I’ve got time pile”. This focus on what is pressing right now makes us think of the expression “nose to the grindstone”. When your nose is to the grindstone, all it can see is the grindstone. That lack of lateral vision can be dangerous for leaders in this complex and fluid world we inhabit.
One of the consequences of the “fewer, more highly paid people model” adopted by many organisations is that most senior leaders have an increasingly wide span of responsibility which involves juggling multiple issues, each of which is huge in itself. Once one large and complex issue has been resolved, the next one, equally large and complex is already lined up to take its place. Even the most outstanding leader has finite capacity. Even if they manage the day job, it sometimes feels like there is little time to stop, reflect, learn or anticipate.
That’s when things can go pear shaped. In a fast changing world, the context can alter rapidly and staying ahead of the game requires time that is devoted to figuring out how to respond. Likewise repeating the same old things means “you will get what you have always got” and that might not always be pretty.
One thing that has become clear in 15 years of coaching is the simple benefit that comes from CEOs and other senior leaders spending a couple of hours every month with a thinking partner (we think, that’s what we do). We also take them through a process where they have to think about all of their stakeholders in a structured way and connect with them to ensure they understand what is required and whether they are delivering it.
Not even the most talented leader can learn or improve their effectiveness without reflection time. Leaders who don’t ring fence time to think will eventually lapse, because no modus operandi is effective for ever. If they are lucky they will get a second chance, but not everyone does.
For more information, please contact Judith Nicol, Director of Leadership Services.