Leader, Slow Down to Go Faster

“The pace of change will never again be as slow as it is today.” (Matthew Bishop, The Economist’s Innovation Forum, 2015)

I paused as I saw these words on the big screen at an industry conference. “Shoot,” I thought, “I was hoping to catch a break sometime along the way.”

No such luck. It’s true. The pace is quickening, and there’s no end in sight. Globalization, new technologies, and changing demographics are just a few of many dynamics we face at a macro level. Add the stress of running a business, leading a team, or meeting deadlines, and it’s no wonder many leaders are left gasping for air.

There’s great danger in riding on an adrenaline-charged high or getting swept up in the whirlwind of a fast-paced, high-change environment. I see this often in my work as an executive leadership coach. Fatigue, anxiety, burnout, and dysfunction are rampant in organizations where leaders succumb to the tyranny of the urgent and neglect what’s truly important.

Slow down. Press the pause button. I know, it’s counterintuitive, but sometimes you need to slow down to go faster. You’ll make further progress on your goals as well.

Three questions to ask yourself as break away from the urgent to focus on the important:

  1. What’s most important in my life? The best leaders start with self-leadership, built on a strong personal foundation. Get clarity about your vision (where am I going?), purpose (why do I do what I do?), and values (what’s most important to me?). According to Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, a compelling purpose is the most potent source of motivation and fulfillment.
  1. What’s most important in my business? Whether you’re an owner or an employee, think of your job as a business. Ultimately, your success comes from how well you serve your customers, internal or external. Consider what these customers need, the problems they have, and what you have to offer. Explore new and better ways to serve your customers, without them asking. That’s the starting point for innovation and strategic thinking.
  1. What’s most important in my work? Assess whether you devote enough time and attention to high-value, high-impact endeavors, as opposed to letting your email inbox or other distractions run your work day. To get better as a leader, find ways to delegate, automate, or eliminate low-value tasks so you can focus on what will be transformational to your business, employees, and customers.

How to make it happen

Easier said than done, right? Here’s what I often suggest to my coaching clients. Schedule a weekly appointment with yourself. Insert it on your calendar and guard it like you would your most important meeting of the week. Get away from your office to a place you enjoy, like a coffee shop, park, or beach. Bring a notebook or journal to record your thoughts. Put the ideas that emerge from these sessions into action.

Be patient with yourself. You won’t discover something profound every time. However, giving consistent, focused attention to the important vs. urgent will fuel incremental change. And, in some cases, it will lead to significant breakthroughs. You will soon find that you’re moving further and faster toward your goals.

This article was first published on the Ignite blog for the Kansas Society of CPAs.

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jon@yourbestleadership.com