Real Leaders

Leaders: Stop Kicking & Slow Down

Photo by Simon Abrams on Unsplash

Speed is the hallmark of our time. It’s funny to hear how many industries and professions regard it as essential to survival and leadership. Reporters want to be the first ones to tell a story, brands try to plant their flags on a new market before anybody else, and well, don’t even get me started on the spectacle of cut-throat racing offered to us by the techno-gadget and services industry on a daily basis. Something is definitely not right.

Last week I attended a women’s event in Madrid. A roundtable discussion among top executives from best-in-class companies such as Microsoft, Atos, Orange and Manpower were discussing what they were doing to make our societies more resilient. No doubt they all had impressive track records of exposure to uncertainty. There couldn’t have been a better selection of panelists to discuss solutions in technology, connectivity and workforce.

But I was restless in my chair throughout the entire conversation. Something was wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it. And then, out of nowhere, it hit me. I raised my hand to ask the question I’m asking you now: how much time do you dedicate to just contemplating life? The smartest and best prepared executives on the planet are in charge of formulating plans to help our societies meet future challenges. This sounds perfect to me.

The problem is these four brilliant thinkers were working at least ten hours a day. Probably more like twelve to fifteen hours a day. Are our destinies in the hands of superbly educated hamsters who can’t take a minute to themselves? Our earliest ancestors experienced incredible levels of uncertainty. Every day was full of unpredicted novelties that could wipe out a whole tribe. They could be attacked by hostile hunters, or the weather could turn on them before they could get to a safe place. Food could run out just as easily as it became available.

Small groups of humans survived and even thrived in complete aloneness. And who were the thinkers and the planners of everybody’s future? They were not tireless hamsters. That’s for sure! The people who advised hunters on the strategies to follow were older warriors. Shamans and elders spent entire days alone in Nature or cooking up sophisticated rituals to help the tribe decide where to go, what to do, what risks to take, which losses to accept and let go.

Many caves bear witness today to the evocative paintings which framed rituals and profound tribal ceremonies tens of thousands of years ago. The planners and thinkers of humanity’s most challenging beginnings did not work fifteen hours a day. It’s just as well they didn’t…otherwise we may not have come this far! One huge truth is that our best executives take no pride on running like hamsters. The system we’ve created insults their intelligence and wastes their talent on a daily basis. The four executives on that panel last Friday opened their eyes as big as saucers when I asked my question.

They recognized a doubt that had already plagued their minds. Our global economic system is trapping our best people in unending wheels of repetitive problem-solving in order to maximize the bottom line. I seriously doubt corporations and publicly traded companies are going to come up with realistic solutions to future threats to humanity. They seem to be too busy building hamster wheels and cornering talented executives into running for their lives.

But, if we concentrate on the truths that we can do something about, then our own personal speed comes into focus. Is it so hard to simply slow down? Is it worth it to even try? It’s a little bit like horse riding, which has become one of my absolutely favorite areas of growth, enjoyment and profound personal learning. Imagine that your body is a magnificent stallion. It’s a sight to be seen when it runs wild. His mere strength and power, the joy in his stride matching the shine on his black hide, his elegant sprints and effortless way around trees and over bushes.

There is nothing your wild horse can’t do when you give it some space. Now suppose you have domesticated it heavily for the last twenty, thirty or forty years. You’ve become accustomed to speedy racing at all times, always worried somebody else will outdo you. If you constantly kick the horse to make it run faster, the horse falls into the habit of lazily trailing along behind you at minimum effort. It just waits for your kick before it pays any attention to what you’re trying to achieve. You do all the work. You exhaust yourself with your kicks.

You look like a ghost. And your horse’s magnificent prowess is permanently absent from what you produce. If, however, you stop constantly kicking your horse to run faster at all cost, learning to do so only when absolutely necessary, an interesting transformation occurs. Your horse stops opposing you and begins to play with you. You go from mercilessly milking results out of it to unsuspected wonder at the amazing things it can do when you trust it. Our unconscious minds and bodies are full of magnificent tricks to show the world, if only we stop kicking the life out of them!

Our current obsession with speed turns us into evil intellectual jockeys, so obsessed by winning races, we’ve completely lost touch with our horse-bodies. The pleasure of working together, the complicity that comes with sharing success, the mutual respect imbued by hours of watching each other excel… they are all gone. Our bodies no longer trust our minds. All we have left is restless scenario planning in our heads as we drag our exhausted skeletons to meetings where we won’t come up with anything creative, or exciting, or worth remembering in any way.

Everything worth living for comes from the wild horse that is our body and unconscious mind. Our passion and out-of-the-box visions don’t come to us when we kick ourselves to perform. They come up inside us when our body is engaged and joyfully involved in our game. Creative ideas and approaches pop into our conscious minds when least expected, like my question to the panel did last week.

Leadership charisma comes from something in our voice and in our eyes that is closer to wild animal warmth than it is to intellectual reasoning…leading is more about the unpredictable wild within us than planned speed. Learning to slow down is not just a nice habit to think about. It’s an entire change of paradigm. It’s a choice worthy of courageous leaders, facing a global system of oppressive, compulsive hamster-wheel racing.

Please stop kicking. Slow down. The future of humanity just might depend on it.

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