Sunday, November 28, 2021
Today, after having a houseful of family home for the holiday, everyone departed. Besides immediately missing them, I was struck by the sudden stillness of the place. After five days of near-constant activity, there was utter silence in a home that even on non-holidays is a beehive of motion. No slamming doors. No advisements from Alexa alerting us to detected motion. No clanging of pots and pans. No whirring appliances, barking dogs, or girls barking orders. Not a creature was stirring. And for once in as long as I could remember, I had nothing to do and nowhere to go. So, I sat. Still.
It felt strange. Like writing with my wrong hand. As leaders, we’re taught that inactivity is waste, that a lack of motion yields a lack of progress, that only the lazy sit still. But as I sat in my empty kitchen this morning, in utter silence, I found myself thinking more and differently about the things that needed thinking about. And the more I thought, the more it occurred to me that modern management has simply forgotten what centuries of scholars have taught us: that stillness leads to mindfulness and to more effective leadership.
And that’s the point for the week.
The most effective leaders are those who bring the most of themselves to the task – the most of their hearts, minds, bodies, and spirits. The most mindful are those who regularly practice stillness – those who take the time to stop, to be fully aware of the world around them and of their own presence in it as well. It’s a critical practice that is becoming increasingly rare.
Instead of learning from our own selves, and our own internal voices, most have come to rely on external stimulus – social media, the influence of increasingly controlling superiors, a 24/7 news cycle, and instant access to “data” from the palms of our hands. As leaders, we go through life in a constant state of distraction. We have convinced ourselves that there is no time for reflection and, worse, no place for it in a work culture that has sought to systematically drive soft-skills out of the C-suite despite a growing compendium of research which proves that more empathic leaders outperform their hard-driving, narcissistic and emotionless counterparts time and time again.
It’s because in increasing numbers, workers are tiring of working for people who devalue them as human beings. They want to work for people who spend less time talking and more time recognizing their unique voices and contributions. They want to work for people who have the self-confidence to stop, shut their mouths, and pay attention to their employees and to the world around them.
Those who do so, who take the time to stop and reflect, have a greater capacity for insight – into their own behavior, that of markets and that of other people. Paradoxically, those who spend more time doing nothing are also more able to focus than those who never take time to breathe, to de-clutter, to see forests for trees. Furthering the paradox, still leaders are better equipped to deal with what’s next than those who spend all their time worrying about what’s next; because in stillness is found perspective, the ability to focus, and the wisdom to understand that only that which we have control over deserves our attention.
Those who practice stillness remain calmer in a crisis. They are far less apt to lose their tempers. And they are far more likely to treat others the way they’d want to be treated. That’s because the still are more mindful – about the impact of behavior – of that of others on them and of theirs on those they have the privilege to lead. Mindfulness leads to greater selflessness and empathy. Leaders who demonstrate these traits and the extraordinary emotional intelligence that accompanies them become, likewise, extraordinary leaders; for no other reason than they take the time to put themselves in the place of others, by being still.
Like most else in life, the decision to be still is a choice – it’s a beautiful, wonderful choice between silence and the urge to fill it with the sound of our own voice. Try saying nothing for a change. Silence really does speak volumes – all we have to do is listen.
So, be still.
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