It's hard to argue against the need for efficiency in today's environment. In our effort to cope with the avalanche of information continuously pouring in, the velocity with which the market can move, and the relentless pressure to deliver and perform, staying ahead feels like the only way to keep up. Worse, we feel compelled to compress as much activity as possible into every waking moment, fullheartedly buying into the fallacy of multitasking as a way of maximizing efficiency.
However, this seemingly inexorable drift toward more, faster, now is coming at a price. Read the headlines and the evidence emerges: Consider Apple's recent rush to market with the iOS 6 and the subsequent backlash (and apology) over the poorly developed Maps app, or Netflix's hasty decision to abruptly split the company and change the pricing model, causing stock prices to tumble and legions of customers to cancel their subscriptions.
While certain situations require speed, it is simply not sustainable as the driving force by which businesses function and success is measured. It is apparent that slowing down is absolutely critical for success. Whether they realize it yet or not, today's business leaders are trying to meet a standard for speed at the cost of their careers—trading effectiveness for efficiency, thoughtfulness for action, and reflection for impulse. Worse yet, this need for speed has an insidious way of seeping into the rest of the organization, often leading to wholesale organizational decline.
In our experience coaching successful executives across several industries, we see a pattern of decline brought on by leaders going too fast, fighting too much, and forcing too many decisions, ultimately leading to exhaustion, disillusionment, and a possible early exit.
For instance, when we go too fast—consistently and instinctively—we erode our ability to learn, to embrace other perspectives, to reflect and consider the consequences of actions, and to simply be more tuned in to things outside our normal range of vision. When we fight too much, we struggle with opposition and barriers rather than finding grounds for mutual gain. When speed is foremost in our minds, we force too many decisions because "getting it done" trumps the longer process of making sound decisions at the appropriate time.
This pattern is a path to decline—in leadership effectiveness and organizational success. But the pattern can be reversed.
Speed takes casualties, including the capacity to recognize what our blind spots are and how they affect our team. As well, we lose an appreciation of our broader circumstances. When pressed for time, we resort to drawing on what has worked before without considering new circumstances, new players, or our own downfalls. In fact, what has worked before often does not work now.
Awareness requires that we think less and sense more, taking in what we don't know, exploring, listening. Becoming more aware means having the discipline—and courage—to step back, slow down, and consider what we don't know. It allows us to see our blind spots before they cause us to stumble.
We are often unable (or unwilling) to accept realities that clash with our wishes. We fight with every ounce of our beings to change those realities, exhausting our resources and energy—to no avail.
Learning to accept is the antidote to fighting too much. It means, first, being willing to recognize forces and interests outside of (and often more formidable than) our own, and second, working with those forces rather than against them.
Undeniably, there are fights worth fighting, but hardly as many as we imagine or take on.
Acceptance helps us to avoid wasting time and money on realities that are unlikely to change, so that we can better direct our resources toward those we can change.
There is a great misconception among leaders today; too often, and especially when feeling the pressure, leaders assume it is their job to narrow a decision to a simple pair of choices—yes/no, stop/start, either/or. This is scarcity mentality in action.
When we go too fast, especially when a decision looms, we develop tunnel vision. Abundance is the philosophy that says, "Not only will I keep my options open, I will also actively seek out more options—just when I feel a decision is imminent. And I will take the time to allow myself to develop and consider those options." Too often, we lock out better choices because we feel compelled to act and move on, rather than make decisions at the right time.
On the surface, the notion of slowing down is an easy one to brush aside as ill-suited to the pressures business leaders face today. We can say—genuinely or otherwise—that speed and efficiency are necessary for anyone in or aspiring to senior leadership. However, this drift toward speed at all costs is becoming one of the most prevalent blind spots in leadership today, vastly under-recognized due to the appeal of short-term rewards for speed. But if you seek to build a lasting career or a sustainable organization, you need to embrace the notion that slower will get you there faster.
Bob Parsanko is the president and founder of Executive Insights and Paul Heagen is the president and founder of Defining Moments Consulting. The two are co-authors of The Leader's Climb (Bibliomotion, September 2012).
[Image: Flickr user Daimler AG]