zoom out to see your future

A really helpful feature of Google Maps is the ability to zoom in and out. Often pulling back to see the bigger picture gives a better sense of where we are now and where we’re going.

In these crazy times, it’s so easy to get stuck at street view. We rush from one task to another, tethered to our smart phones, trying to stay on top of a torrent of messages while juggling meetings and phone calls. If we don’t zoom out, we may be heading in the wrong direction to the wrong destination.

Our executive coaching work shows that many leaders are too busy working in their leadership roles to zoom out periodically and work on their leadership. Their blue dot is blinking so fast it’s become a strobe light as they get lost in dealing with daily issues and concerns.

In their classic five year study (Beware the Busy Manager) of hundreds of managers at a dozen large companies, Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghosal reported, “Our findings on managerial behavior should frighten you: Fully 90% of managers squander their time in all sorts of ineffective activities. In other words, a mere 10% of managers spend their time in a committed, purposeful, and reflective manner.”

Sounding way too familiar? So how do you leader shift to extraordinary leadership? Harvard Business School professor, Joseph Badaracco, studied classic works and interviewed 100 managers in 15 countries to learn how busy men and women find time for reflection. In Reflection: The Pause That Brings Peace and Productivity, Dina Gerdeman summarizes his “four design principles for a calmer, more productive life.”

Aim for Good Enough — find reflective time and an enjoyable approach that fits into your life. That could be exercising, cooking, commuting…. Some leaders write out their thoughts. Others talk things through with people they trust.

Downshift Occasionally — by daydreaming, taking a break, slowing down, connecting with nature, or a walk. Celebrate progress or develop gratitude lists/habits to “escape the psychic prison of continuous improvement.”

Ponder Your Hard Issues — step back and look at the issue from different perspectives. That may involve envisioning the consequences of going down different paths. Some leaders doodled their thoughts, looked at their own emotional barriers, or talked out loud with themselves.

Pause and Measure Up — look at how the actions and likely outcomes align with what you and others expect. You could look at what your professional role models might do, what legacy you want to leave, or consistency with your personal values.

“Without reflection, we drift,” Badaracco observes. “Others shape and direct us. With reflection, we can understand and even bend the trajectories of our lives.”

17th century English poet, Edward Young, said, “they only babble who practice not reflection.” Yoda, the funny little Star Wars philosopher and teacher, would like how he phrased that sentence. So, as Yoda might say, babble, do not. Reflection guide you, it will, if you pause to see where going you are.