Leaders are often unaware that they have lost their spark. You can see it in the way they move. You can hear it in their speech. When passion, courage, and commitment are absent, everyone on the team can feel it. Dull meetings filled with speeches that lack conviction; questions that lack curiosity. Complacency versus a sense of urgency abounds.
In the absence of an overriding purpose, leaders “over-steer” to the safety of smaller aims: firefighting, and prioritizing tasks they already know how to perform. Calendars become filled with meetings and obligations borne of the past. Results fall short of expectations. And when progress plateaus, leaders fall back on the mantra of working harder and longer, and all perspective on strategies and actions that matter most, slip away.
Live in this professional context for a month and you can feel overwhelmed. Do it for a quarter and you will feel worn down. Live it for years, as many CEO’s and their teams do, and you become resigned to your circumstances.
This downward cycle starts with what I call “drifting.” When leaders and leadership are set adrift, the company follows. This results in leaders driving harder and demanding more, extinguishing the spark even further.
Let’s Find Out if You’re Drifting
- Drifting is present when you express how hard you work as a badge of honor.
- Drifting is present when you deploy rinse & repeat strategies, like “Do more” and “Go faster.”
- Drifting is present when you lack the initiative to attack long-standing problems.
- Drifting is present when you focus on getting to what’s next vs. ensuring your current work achieves its intended impact.
- Drifting is present when you choose work you know how to do vs. work requiring new ideas and effort.
- Drifting is present when you put off starting your most important work because you are “too busy.”
If none of the above applies to you, congratulations! You’re not a drifter. But if any/all of the situations sound familiar, you’ll need an escape route.
One of the best ways to break your reactive habits is to create a new routine that offers a bird’s eyes view of the demands facing you and your teams — a practice that supports prioritizing your strategic work vs. getting caught up in the day-to-day.
Here is a simple weekly ritual you can model to unplug from your drifting and plug into your vitality:
- Step 1: Block uninterrupted time at the beginning of every week — no phones, no computer displays, no interruptions of any kind.
- Step 2: During this blocked time, grab a blank sheet of paper and write “What’s most vital to me?” at the center. Then mind map anything and everything that enlivens you for 20 minutes without stopping, creating separate branches for each activity.
- Step 3: Choose the two most essential branches of your mind map. Block two, one-hour focus sessions for each area in your calendar for the upcoming week. Make these focus sessions the most important events on your calendar, protected from any reactive firefighting.
- Step 4: Use these two focus sessions to further develop the most meaningful ideas from your brainstorm, i.e.:
- If you realize you need to inspire your team, start developing a plan to construct a more compelling vision.
- If you surfaced areas in the organization that don’t feel aligned around shared goals and interests, you could plan an engaging workshop to bring them together.
- If you see an area where rinse and repeat strategies are no longer producing the results they once did, figure out how to bring teams together to envision new ways forward.
- If you notice you have been putting off important work because you don’t have all the answers yet, use this time to starting find the answers vs. gravitating to work that is familiar.
- If you recognize you have been avoiding some of your most important work, use this time to break through that resistance.
As with most ideas that are not fully formed, it’s vital to invest time for further incubation, imagination, exploration, and envisioning potential next steps. When the timing is right, invite your team to join you to become part of the journey, engaging and contributing ideas in order to discover even deeper wells of inspired focus.
Creating an improved future often requires new paths forward. It also means bringing more purpose and passion into what you are doing. By blocking time for what is most vital, you are taking an active step toward escaping the unconscious patterns that reinforce the status quo.
Breaking organizational drifting starts with learning to first recognize, and then escape your drifting. In my experience, you will never conquer drifting, instead, you must develop a practice to sculpt your choices into greater alignment.
As you build this habit, your speech will take on new clarity and inspiration and this new energy, combined with more focused choices, will unlock not only your team’s performance, but continue to fuel new aliveness in your leadership.