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A Quiet Place May 13, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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Leaders get pulled in a thousand directions.  No matter where you sit in the org chart, you are being pulled by those above and those below.  From above, requests for status and things to do; from below, a need for guidance and clarification.  There is little time to think; you need to be ready to respond at a moment’s notice, and you need to be right every time.

Truth be told, I thrive in this kind of world.  I like the pull, the energy, the constant change, and the challenge of not dropping the ball.  For an ADD mind like mine, constant change feeds my natural need for distraction.  If the world did not present distractions, I’d have to create them.

Nonetheless, everyone needs to time to think.  When that time comes, it can be almost impossible to stop the distractions (self-induced or externally imposed) and find an extended block of time for concentrated thought.  For leaders, these blocks of time are crucial for pulling all the pieces together and thinking strategically.  Tactical thinking thrives on distraction (solve this problem now!); strategic thinking thrives on solitude and focus (what will we be doing years from now?).

How do you find time to think?  I cannot find the time at the office or even at home; there is always something, either self-inflicted or from someone else, that demands my attention and pulls me away from a quiet moment. Instead, I  think best in the noisiest activity available to me: while I cut the grass.

The overwhelming cacophony of the mower shuts out everything else in the world.  Coupled with the iPod plugged into my ears, I am absolutely oblivious to any outside stimulus, to the point that my wife often has to throw things at me to get my attention while I’m mowing.  The simple repetitive act of going back and forth across the yard occupies a large part of my brain that would otherwise be engaged in ADD-related activity.  The end result is that my mind is truly freed to engage in long-term thinking and problem-solving.

The other nice thing about lawn-mowing is that it has to happen every week, rain or shine.  As a result, I get consistent thinking time on a regular basis.  Were it not for the relentless growth of the grass, I know that I would never put so much time on my schedule just for thinking.  In fact, I can feel the loss of that time in the winter, when I don’t get the chance to think as much.

I’m not recommending that everyone turn to lawn care as their preferred deep-thought environment.  What I am suggesting is that we all need to find some way to create a deep-thinking place, and we need to go there on a regular basis.

It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day stuff and neglect our strategic focus.  Successful leadership requires strategic thinking that can only occur in self-imposed solitude.  How you find that solitude is up to you, depending on your personality and psyche.  Finding that time, however, is not optional and is crucial to your success as a leader.