We live in an increasingly noisy world. Not only is the amount of information vying for our attention growing exponentially, but the volume of the cries seems to be increasing at a similar rate. Most leaders today are being “shouted at” about things that need our “immediate response” at a level and frequency that is simply unsustainable. At the same time, that still small voice inside — you know, where most of our wisdom comes from — remains consistently still and small. If we want to use that as our guide (and we should) it takes an intentional effort to get quiet enough to hear it.
I’m not here to tell you the best time and place to get quiet. Some people find clarity through exercise or early morning reflection. For others, it is spending time in nature or while driving on an open road. In the vast majority of cases, it happens during time spent away from devices and other people. And in my experience, you have to ease into it. If I have a two-hour drive to a meeting, it is probably going to take me 30 minutes to quiet my mind enough to hear my brain think. But then, look out! Insights and ideas seem to come out of nowhere, pieces start to fit into place, seemingly disconnected things start to connect . . . Now I have to admit, I love these kind of car rides, but they do occasionally make my people a bit nervous, especially when I start our next meeting with, “I had a thought the other day on my way to . . .”
Still, the challenge remains, how do you carve out time to hear your brain think in your already overloaded schedule?
1. Identify it as part of the job. Too often, we feel like time spent in reflection or thinking is not really “working” because there is not a clear result we can check off of a to-do list. Or, it gets relegated to something we can do in our “spare” time (you know, when you should be sleeping). Trust me, the broader your scope of authority, the more critical this becomes — it is most definitely part of the job.
2. Schedule it. It would be nice to think that you will find chunks of time in your calendar for reflection, but how often does that really happen? More than likely, free blocks of time are filled with emails, returning phone calls, or moving stacks of paper from one pile to another. Be intentional. This is a critical function. Schedule it.
3. Process with others. Once you have heard that still small voice, share your ideas, thoughts and reflections with your team. They will often add their own insight to make the end result even better. Reflection is often the starting point of a discussion, or a way to break through a stalemate. It is rarely the final solution. When you encourage others to build on your reflection, you not only model the importance of quiet time, you encourage them to engage with the bigger solution.
Who are you going to allow to set your leadership priorities — those screaming with the latest/greatest solution, or that innate, hard won wisdom you hold inside? I’m betting on you. And all it takes is getting quiet enough to hear your brain think.