“Fully 90% of managers squander their time in all sorts of ineffective activities… the smallest proportion of managers we studied – around 10% – were both highly energetic and highly focused. Not only do such managers put in more effort than their counterparts, but they also achieve critical, long-term goals more often… spend their time in a committed, purposeful, and reflective manner.” — Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal, “Beware the Busy Manager”

Very often we find that managers and their teams are so busy working in the business that they have little time to work on the business. Meetings, deadlines, full e-mail in-boxes, phone calls – comprised mostly of operational activities – suck up huge amounts of time and energy. We’ve often tried to work with such ineffective managers to set up training workshops and off-site planning retreats. But they are typically too busy fighting fires to spend time on any prevention strategies. As they work ever harder, the fires burn ever bigger. Too often this leads to burned-out managers, demoralized frontline staff, and slipping performance.

Strong leaders who are effective coaches know the value of R & R (reflection and renewal). They periodically pull themselves and their teams back from daily work in operations to work on themselves. They are constantly asking questions like “what should we keep doing, stop doing, and start doing to be more effective?” Coaches keep the fires under control by getting everyone involved in looking at underlying root causes and developing prevention strategies. This leads to renewed energy, clearer focus, and increased performance.

The value of R & R is not a new concept. Many centuries ago there was a vast wilderness dividing two friendly nations. Caravans of traders traveled a rough highway through the sandy and rocky wastelands. It was a long and dangerous journey where animals and people often ran out of precious water and perished. One day, a traveler named Ephram got lost and wandered many miles off the beaten path through rocks, thorns, and barren desert that made the regular route seem like a stroll down a country lane. Confused and near death from thirst, he stumbled into a cave. As he went further into its cool and inviting depths, Ephram discovered a large pool of clear, cold water created by an underground spring. As he drank deeply and bathed in its refreshing waters, Ephram’s failing eyesight (he had gone almost blind in the last few years) and pronounced limp were healed. When Ephram found his way back to the main road, word of the cavern and its miraculous waters spread quickly through the caravans. Although it was a two-day journey from the main route, Ephram’s Cavern quickly became a life-saving stop for all convoys down through the years. Weary travelers were refreshed and rejuvenated. Travelers continued their long journey with renewed vigor and energy. The caverns became a major factor in the growing size and frequency of caravans that traveled through the immense wilderness.

As the years passed and travel experience grew, caravans became better equipped and able to go longer and longer distances without stopping. As trade between the two nations grew, so did the competition. Bigger and faster caravans began to rush right past the long and difficult road leading off to the distant, magical waters of Ephram’s Cavern. Those travelers that did go to the caverns arrived at their destination days later than their harried competitors. But they were much healthier and their energy levels were higher. In the weeks and months of frantic trading activity that followed, those called the Ephram Travelers were less stressed, more focused, and used their time more wisely than their competitors. As a result, they finished their trading and left a few days earlier than the others. On the return trip, the Ephram Travelers once again made the long and difficult trek to the caverns. There they rejuvenated themselves and the beasts of burden carrying the heavy payloads to sell in their homelands. Since their harried competitors were already a few days behind, they again rushed past the cavern road to get home before the Ephram Travelers had commanded all the highest prices for the fine goods brought back from foreign lands.

Taking time for reflection and renewal continues to pay off in today’s workplace, as well.