Truth be told I’ve been in a tough spot of late. I’ve found myself in one of those parts of my leadership journey where I don’t see the path ahead of me and I feel completely at a loss for which direction to turn. While this isn’t a brand new feeling for me it’s a feeling I’m very uncomfortable with. I like to feel in control. Don’t all leaders?
As much as we may say and think that we are totally okay with the unknown, we’re not. As humans our brain is not wired to handle change smoothly.
When the unknown shows up and we get ourselves situated with it we’re often fine. But the process of being in the unknown is not a comfortable place to be as a leader because we are the ones in the business who are meant to know where we’re going. How do you lead if you don’t know what is up ahead?
Starting in the middle of 2015 I found myself without a clear vision for the first time in my life. A foggy vision means no forward movement in my eyes.
Many leaders are like me in that we like (and I mean REALLY like) forward movement.
As 2016 was beginning I was void of a vision. I recall an evening with a few of my closest friends and a bottle of red wine where I said, “For the first time in my life I have no idea what the next year is going to bring to me. I know it’s big changes, but I have no idea what those changes are.” Uncomfortable. Uncomfortable. Uncomfortable. And I’m someone who I would say and I think most people around me, especially my team, would say thrives in times of change.
I’ve read hundreds of leadership books that have told me the “secret to great leaders”, or “3 things every great leader does”. I’m sure you know the same books. The ones that restate the same qualities that every powerful leader embody. I know you can agree with me when I say that in more than one of those hundreds of books a quality I’ve read great leaders have is vision. Another quality I’ve read great leaders have is the ability to set goals. Well, when you’ve read all the books and you’re trying to be one of the “great leaders” and you suddenly find yourself without vision and without the ability to make a new goal because you don’t know what your vision is it is a tough spot to be in. Sound familiar?
Maybe what I needed instead of a book on being a great leader was a book on “mental ruts 101”. In the last 6 months I’ve been floating around, struggling to make a move forward yet determined not to sit still. If you’ve been where I’ve been you will understand what I’m describing feels like walking in a circle. Sometimes the circle gets bigger and you move forward a little but you don’t move forward with the usually slingshot style movement many leaders are accustomed to.
Well I don’t like floating very well and I certainly don’t like not having a vision and goals for the future. But like all parts of a journey there is a purpose for this kind of chaos. It’s a purpose that I haven’t read much about in leadership books because it seems that what we are always reading about are the good parts of leading. How rewarding it is, how much leaders love what they do. I could go on and on. The truth is sometimes leaders need to take a strategic pause and be still. Still their minds from needing to know the vision of the future. Walk forward each day without a goal in mind beyond what is happening in that moment in that day.
The last 6-8 months has been a lesson for me in patience. It’s been a lesson is pausing. I struggled with the pause because I have never paused. I’ve pushed, pushed, pushed my way towards wherever I felt my vision was leading me. What I’ve learned is pauses can be strategic. I don’t have to sit idle and feel frustrated, I can use the time to refuel. I can re-inspire myself and reconnect with people who motivate me. I can work on some inward reflection and growth. I can actually take time for me.
I’m not dismissing the power of reading leadership books that discuss the qualities of great leaders. I do believe it’s time we discuss the tough stuff too. The emotional journey to becoming the great leader and the stuff that will continue to pop up for us even when we get “there”. I don’t know that the list of qualities ever gets smaller or can be condensed into a few things. What I do know is one item that needs to be on the list of qualities embodied by a great leader is the ability to take a strategic pause.