Leaders Take Time to Reflect
From Marcus Buckingham’s excellent book The One Thing You Need to Know: … About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success:
The best leaders I’ve studied all discipline themselves to take time out of their working lives to think. They all muse. They all reflect. They all seem to realize that this thinking time is incredibly valuable time, for it forces them to process all that has happened, to sift through the clutter, to run ideas up the proverbial flagpole and then yank them down again, and, in the end, to conclude. It is this ability to draw conclusions that allows them to project such clarity.
Brad Anderson [CEO of Best Buy] disciplines himself to take a two-hour walk every week. Yes, this helps to keep him fit, but it also gives him time to ruminate.
Sir Terry Leahy refuses to carry a cell phone [like someone else I know]. He has identified his time in cars, trains, and planes as his most productive thinking time and he guards it jealously. Besides, he says, people know where I’m going. They can reach me when I get there. [Note: I would recommend carrying a cell phone, but just not answering during those times of thought.]
Dan Cathy, the president of Chick-fil-A, disciplines himself to go into seclusion in his cabin in the hills of North Georgia once a quarter. When I asked him what he does during this day, he replied, “Nothing. I just use it as a time to remind myself of those few things that I am certain of.”
Do not be overcome by the temptation to think that the essence of your work is dealing with the urgent. It is not. You have to take time out to reflect. Just get out and think. The two hours (or more) that you take to do this will be worth far more than the two hours of tactical work that you would have gotten done otherwise. So discipline yourself to do this regularly.
And when you do this, get away from your desk. Go somewhere interesting. Go walk along the river, or drive someplace unique. Or just walk in the area. Whatever you do, don’t subscribe to the thinking that you have to be in your desk or even in the building to be doing real “work.” (And if your company thinks that way, point them here.)
Sometimes you need to be spontaneous with this as well. A few years ago when I was working on the website redesign for where I work, I had my biggest breakthrough when, after spinning my wheels for the morning on how to organize the content, I just left to go play a game of Frisbee golf at an interesting place. Those two hours were far more productive than anything I would have got done by staying at my desk.
One more thing: Note Buckingham’s point that this reflection time results in drawing conclusions. So many in our society are afraid of coming to conclusions and settled convictions on issues. That is a recipe for becoming a boring person. It is also death to leadership, because the most important attribute of a leader is clarity. And you will not have any clarity if you are afraid of coming to conclusions.