Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Tool for Leaders: Just STOP

We live in a fast-paced world.  Information is flying at us quickly and delivered to us in a million ways, including on devices that fit in the palm of our hands. 

Because of this, there seems to be a move in our society towards greater speed and efficiency.  More value is placed on getting a lot of things done quickly instead of getting a few things done well.  Oh well, speed is king nowadays.  As Yogi Berra once said to his wife as they were lost driving to Cooperstown: “We’re completely lost, but we’re making good time!”

I used to believe in that too, but now I’m letting my perspective change.  I used to be a very difficult person to lead – especially for my supervisors (there are at least 4 people out there nodding right now).  I liked to move fast, because I had too much confidence.  I wasn’t very willing to let my ideas be challenged, or slowed down.  If it’s a good idea, then let’s just do it! 

Well, you can only ignore the teachings of The Tortoise and the Hare for so long.  I now understand the value of slowing down.

A friend of mine who is a consultant for nonprofit organizations, Jim Thorne, once taught me a very simple tool for leaders.  He got it from the book The Inner Game of Work by Timothy Gallwey.  When I first heard it, I thought it might be too obvious and too simplistic.  As I experience more and more of organizational life, I’ve learned that its simplicity is an asset, and that its use is far too rare.

In another essay, I argued that discipline is a far more important skill for leaders than vision.  This tool follows that same line of thinking.  Instead of accepting the popular view that leaders need to be the quick-witted, fast-moving, never-let-a-second-pass-between-a-question-and-answer types, they should instead be discerning, thoughtful, and wise.  Instead of Daniel Laruso, they should be Mr. Miyagi.  Instead of a roman candle, they should be a slow-burning one. 

The tool?  Just STOP.

1. Step Back
2. Think
3. Organize Your Thoughts
4. Proceed

I told you it was pretty simple.  But yet, how often would using this tool save us from disasters?  I have observed way too many meetings (especially related to boards) in which the desire to get the meeting over with causes the acceptance of rash and ill-conceived ideas.  I have also seen leaders (including the man in the mirror) hit send on an email before really thinking it through.  You have probably been a part of a meeting that goes for an hour before someone has to ask, “what is the purpose of this meeting again?” 

The tool has more uses that just to cool the heat of the moment, or to give proper thought to an idea.  The STOP tool can be helpful in any of these ways:

For the fraternity/sorority board of directors:  Use the tool in strategic planning to prevent unimportant things from competing with core issues (in other words, to get you back out of the weeds).

For the fraternity/sorority executive director:  Use the tool before returning a call to the news reporter.

For the fraternity/sorority advisor:  Use the tool to help pull the officer team out of dangerous groupthink.

For the fraternity/sorority house manager:  Use the tool before storming down the hall to confront the member who is slacking on their responsibilities.

For the fraternity/sorority president:  Use the tool before and after the chapter meeting.

For the fraternity/sorority member:  Use the tool when a potential member asks you: “why should I join?”

One of my favorite authors, Margaret Wheatley, once wrote:

“We have to slow down.  Nothing will change for the better until we do.  We need time to think, to learn, to get to know each other.  We are losing these great human capacities in the speed-up of modern life, and it is killing us.”

I agree completely.  If life is some grand race, feel free to get to the finish line first.  I’m learning that, more often than I ever thought before, it pays to STOP.


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