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Defying the Gravity of a Crisis

I know, I know. “Defying Gravity,” sounds a little melodramatic. It’s like the booming voice of a circus barker, “Come one, come all. Come see the Flying Zucchini Brothers as they defy gravity.”

However, listen to the conversations among leadership teams or around board room tables these days—or should I say, on Zoom—and it becomes immediately obvious that we are consumed by our focus on the Covid-19 crisis. On one level we have no choice. It would be irresponsible not to. But, the sheer gravity of this crisis or any crisis for that matter has a way of training us to fixate on the urgent at the expense of the big picture, long-range, game-changing important. Effective leadership teams train themselves to resist the pull of that gravity.

If you sit as a senior leader in your company, on the board of directors for your organization, or as an elder at your church, I am going to guess that at times you find yourself frustrated by the issues that drain your time and attention. We have all been there in those meetings when we thought, “are we really spending our time talking about this? We are mired in such small stuff when there are really big and strategic issues that need to be addressed!”

You see, the natural path of any organization is downhill.

The natural tendency of any organization is downward along the path of least resistance rather than uphill into big challenges and unknown territory. It happens easily through the press of the urgent, the reality of fatigue, the demands of the crowd, or the desire to feel in control of something amidst a crisis you cannot control. Gravity draws us into the micro details of managing the whirlwind away from a focus on wildly important goals. And, gravity is really hard to resist.

In contrast, effective leaders and effective teams execute the dance of leadership in a way that keeps their primary energies aimed at the horizon instead of the past, focused on possibilities instead of prevention.

EXPERIMENT: Four Strategies for Defying Gravity

Let’s talk solutions. A great place to start is by experimenting with different intentional strategies to discover what works for you. Experimentation is a great way to unlock group learning without the pressure to find a perfect plan. What matters is that you find ways that work for you. Here are four starting places.

1. Apply the 80/20 Rule to your Agenda Covey’s timeless grid for differentiating the Important from the Urgent offers a powerful paradigm. Experiment with applying that Important vs. Urgent approach to running your meetings. Deliberately plan to spend the first 80% of your meeting on the agenda items that are Important but Not Urgent. Then force yourselves to be decisive or else delegate the urgent stuff during the other 20% of your time.

2. Focus on the Horizon 6 to 18 Months Out Yeah sure, I know that there are always a lot of demands in the immediate future that need your attention. But one discipline that can shift the balance of your energies is to deliberately address goals, priorities, opportunities that define your preferred future 6-18 months out. Literally, force yourselves to stay on task exploring the nuances and essential components of that future. After you have done good future thinking, ask a different question about the present. Don’t ask, “what is on our plate today?” Do ask, “what do we need to put in motion in the next 30-90 days in order to point us toward that preferred future?”

3. Take a Deliberate Risk Crises have a way of escalating safety and risk-avoidance. It’s totally understandable. When things are uncertain, why would you want to add more risk? However, counter-intuitively, crises can also create a “get out of jail card.” Consider this current pandemic when the rules of the road are changing every day. Everyone knows we are living through a massive experiment on every front. So, consider yourself in an adaptive playground and make a decision to try something risky. Say yes to a new idea. Make a change to something that isn’t working like it used to. Give something away for free, just for the goodwill of it. Do something that doesn't feel completely safe or predictable. Robert Quinn’s said it this way, “When you’re not risking your job, you’re actually not doing your job.” (Deep Change)

4. Get Unproductive Together One of the ways to break the death grip on the urgent and endless demands of the whirlwind, is to shut down your work motor together. Do something fun as a team. Spend time learning to laugh together. Let go of the need to be so stinking productive every minute. When we begin to believe that the world cannot survive without our shared drivenness we move into a really dark place. On the other hand, when we shut down for a bit, we reduce the pull of gravity that keeps us from the creativity and perspective we need. Additionally, the more we learn to care about and enjoy each other, the more elasticity we build into the ebb and flow of our work.

What are your thoughts?

What have you discovered that helps you resist the gravity of the urgent?

[Rock Climbing Photo by Fionn Claydon on Unsplash]


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