Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Thoughts From "The Reflective Executive"

For quite some time I've been planning an off-site retreat with some leaders, a time to focus on strategy, performance and team-building. They keep postponing the event, the latest reason because they are too busy. I remind them that they will always be too busy. Busy is not so much what you are doing, but a state of mind. Everybody I know is busy, but not everyone is necessarily being effective, because their perspective and approach is a bit off. Sometimes you have to briefly pause the game in order to practice how to play it better, with less anxiety and more confidence.

I'm reading a great little book right now called The Reflective Executive (yes, a play off of Peter Drucker's business classic The Effective Executive) that touches upon this need for leaders and managers to be willing to step back from time to time and deeply assess their leadership. It is written by Emilie Griffin, a longtime advertising executive who is a prolific writer in the spiritual formation arena. Griffin offers:

"Pity the poor executive who isn't willing to lose herself--or himself. To lose oneself walking down a country lane is to take the chance of being whole again, regaining the split off part of oneself that needs to be unified and reconciled."

I think Griffin is on to something here. I've observed so many leaders, including myself, get caught up in doing things and lose their sense of being. The embryonic, deeper motivations for their chosen profession become submerged under the clutter of reactivity. The activities or disciplines that nurture their spirit and help them to feel "whole" have fallen by the wayside, because they are too busy.

Since the author's larger premise and context here is God's ubiquitous presence in the marketplace and the importance of reflecting on that presence, Griffin discusses how a busy leader's fear of allocating time to pause the game is ultimately a spiritual struggle. "Dealing at last with the demons that will not let us plan our time is finally to wrestle with insecurities and fears that enslave us: unreasonable supervisors, unfair schedules, unrelenting clients, unrealistic demands. At last we can come out of the undergrowth and into the clearing, where one can see new options for the use of time."

It is a spiritual struggle because how we manage time is a raw reflection of our sense of worth and esteem. When we are constantly anxious about pleasing others, we are not at peace with ourselves. We are not at peace because we are feeling scattered, unsure of what is best as we try to make so many things "good enough." When feeling scattered it is nearly impossible to find the center of our being, to let our spirit become renewed or energized. The voice of God becomes more faint, and without hearing or responding to that voice all we hear instead is the tyranny of the urgent and the urgencies of well-meaning (hopefully) tyrants. The voice we have neglected is the path to the relationship that can fully restore that spiritual sense of worth, if we are willing to "stop, look and listen."

Reflection is not only good for the soul but good for business; it is not a naive, unproductive exercise. Anxiety, according to Griffin, is actually a major barrier to making decisions. She writes, "Reflection is not a denial of time but a way to heighten one's grasp of time. Developing the ability to come to conclusions readily and make decisions with confidence is not a matter either of time-squeezing or of time-collapsing. Intuitive knowledge is rare and visionary. Data-base knowledge is of an entirely different order from the wisdom gained when we make friends with time."

There are many people with whom I would like to be friends, including Griffin. But I think it would be really cool to be "friends with time" as well!


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