Over the past thirty years the majority of my time, and the time of the leaders that I work with as an executive coach, is often spent hurtling towards new destinations in the pursuit of goals, objectives and progress in business. The high cost of traveling at such a hectic pace is that many leaders barely notice the path beneath their very feet.
After deciding to leave my last corporate job to launch my own business, I was surprised about how disorienting it felt to get off the treadmill. In slowing down to think about what was next, colleagues told me that I would feel a new level of fatigue while I was busy catching my breath. In the first few months I did indeed feel exhausted as my body caught up with itself. I had days where I felt sad and uncertain about the future, or happy and elated about the new life that was emerging. I spent quality time with my family and friends while feeling more appreciative of this gift of time I’d allowed myself.
What I learned during those first few months was that every fiber of my being was geared to launching myself down the track as quickly as possible. Not only was this new pace of life disorienting to me, but it seemed to be disorienting to others as well. Some of my family members, friends and coworkers made the assumption that getting off the treadmill meant I must be retiring. I had to work hard to ignore the voices of others and even my own inner voice critiquing this decision to take time. I did in fact slow down, allowing large chunks of time between coaching and consulting work to be all about spaciousness.
This new path taken continues to be almost entirely about the grand experiment of paying attention to my relationship with the everyday moments and taking my time or even delaying, what had seemed in the past, to be very important decisions about putting new form to the terrain ahead. You could say I’ve been in training to be more aware on multiple levels – with my mind (what am I thinking about in this moment), my body (how does it feel today) and my emotions (what am I feeling right now)?
Today I awoke very early as my brain was already working on some new ideas. I slowed things down intentionally by sitting at my desk and observing the world outside before starting my daily writing practice. In that moment, I became aware for the first time that my body was feeling a little tired, but energized for the day ahead. I recognized a feeling of gratefulness that I had new clients to work with. Everyone has their own ways of paying attention. I’ve made a commitment to meditate or exercise before or after writing and client work each day, to be more centered and focused in my work. Not only am I clearer about how to show up for my coaching clients with greater impact, but I experience a new sense of sturdiness on the path beneath my feet.
I’ve noticed these very same challenges prevent my clients’ from being as effective as they wish to be at work. When leaders slow down they practice connecting their heads and hearts. While noticing what other information might be available to them via intuition, emotions or physical signals (that they’re used to ignoring) they make better decisions that inform actions. These simple questions can be disrupters or antidotes to the frenetic pace and reactive responses that are common among leaders. What often emerges is a stronger sense of perspective, connection with oneself and others, better ideas and smarter choices.
My clients say these simple practice are having a profound impact on their effectiveness as leaders. By being present in the moment throughout the day, leaders say they’re more aware of their impact on others by managing their negative or positive emotions when faced with constant ambiguity and change. Many leaders report feeling less fatigued at the end of the day simply by paying attention at a deeper level with greater frequency.
Through these everyday rituals of attending more closely, whether it be taking time to exercise, read, write, meditate, reflect or breathe deeply before a meeting starts, we feel better prepared to meet the challenges of the day and can be present for others who benefit from our full awareness.
Noticing the path beneath our feet is all the preparation we need for the journey ahead.
I’m grateful that I made the radical move to jump out into the unknown as the lessons I had to learn about resilience, creative energy and vitality are similar to what many executives struggle with in our volatile, unpredictable, constantly changing and ambiguous (VUCA) work world.