Executive Vitality™: Slow Down to Speed Up

Executive Vitality™: Slow Down to Speed UpThe desire and drive to be overly resilient can be a plague undermining the executive vitality of many organizational leaders. The Harvard Business Review recently published a fascinating article entitled, The Dark Side of Resilience. The article discusses some of the negative consequences of extreme resilience in the workplace, e.g., wasting time and energy on unattainable goals, tolerating toxic situations and people, coping with stress by blocking out reality, becoming isolated, and acquiring an unrealistically enhanced self-image.

We need to be able to feel GREAT about “normal” human behavior—why are we trying to be superhuman? Chasing unrealistic goals, tolerating the intolerable, and blocking out reality do not add value and, in fact, they diminish value.

In the end, the norms that the “superhuman syndrome” drives in a culture ultimately create stress and burn-out as described in Employee Burnout Is a Problem with the Company, Not the Person. To that, I would add that the tone is set at the top. “The company” is actually a leadership group or one leader afflicted with “superhuman syndrome.” The author of this article, Eric Garton, cites as contributors to burnout: too much collaboration (you can interpret that as “too many meetings”), bad or non-existent time management techniques, and overloading the most valuable employees. Micromanagement, fragmented work days, too many decision-makers, too much rapid-fire e-communication, and too many initiatives also serve to increase stress and lower productivity.

In contrast to the practice of ramping up business velocity, a recurring theme in this Executive Vitality series, is recognition of the need of senior leaders to slow down in order to speed up—to ensure they have sufficient mind-space, be it empty space on the calendar, a true vacation (see last month’s article if you have not yet, Executive Vitality: Plan on a Good Vacation), deep breathing exercises, or other mindfulness practices. Mind-space allows leaders to reflect, rest, be creative, recharge, think strategically, and move the organization with nimbleness.

In my executive coaching work with C-suite leaders, I have seen leaders with the “superhuman syndrome” try to charge full steam ahead on the business front in the face of serious distractions; I have seen them spread so thin they have direct reports to whom they have not spoken in weeks or months; I have seen them turn to an unhealthy reliance on substances or food; and I have seen them neglect their friends and families.

It does not take a PhD in psychology (or any other area) to see where those situations are headed—certainly not to growth, agility, and success—whether it be organizational, team, professional, or personal. As I have worked through these issues with people I coach, the results have been dramatic: improved well-being, colleagues who find the leader accessible and focused, increased ability to think creatively and clearly, better decision-making, and faster progress toward goals and objectives.

You, your team, and your organization deserve to slow down.

  1. Say no.
  2. Stop doing non-essentials.
  3. Sit and do nothing sometimes.
  4. Sleep more.

Can you think of any rushed, impulsive decisions you wished you had not made once you had quiet reflection time? How can you think of ways to slow down and to train/encourage your team to do the same?

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