The Runaway Executive
Just for fun on a quiet summer evening, I just had a desire to see an action-packed movie with family and friends. It is something I almost never do! I’m not sure why the wish to escape to a movie, but it had been a productive, jammed-packed week at VIM Executive Coaching and I guess I just wanted to get involved in something a bit out of my ordinary routine.
I turned on the television and looked through one of the directories. I remembered a title I had wanted to see from many years ago. I thought it contained the word “Runaway,” but I wasn’t too sure. Much to my surprise, I found Runaway Train, The Runaways, Runaway Bride, Runaway Jury and not to be forgotten, a movie simply called Runaway.
About that time, someone said, “Why waste our time with a movie, how about sitting on the patio listening to the birds?” It appealed to me even more, so I turned off all those “runaway movies,” and we sat on the patio with a glass of wine and enjoyed nature!
Being an executive coach, and always fascinated with human behavior, I must admit that I could not get the word “runaway” out of my head, especially as it pertains to issues of leadership. VIM Executive Coaching works with entrepreneurs and executives in all kinds of for profit and not-for-profit organizations. It is not uncommon for us to work with clients who feel as though they are on a runaway train or escape making difficult decisions like a runaway bride!
In fact, it is a serious set of circumstances when the leader either abdicates any sense responsibility for his or her organization or goes off on so many tangents that decision making becomes capricious and ineffective. As an executive coach this bothers me for I understand the lack of focus not only affects organizations, but it will come to define and potentially destroy the executive.
The opposite of something running away is a braking action of some kind. Anyone who is an experienced horse rider, skier or kayaker can well understand the feeling of controlling something powerful that is running away from us. The action needed is immediate, responsive and thoughtful.
The reason for the popularity of a word such as runaway in a movie title is, I believe an inherent fear we all have of what happens when something powerful cannot be controlled. We might think of a train, for example, losing its brakes or a beginning skier realizing she cannot control her descent on an intermediate or advanced slope. In those cases, we want to see how the speed can be controlled or the situation corrected. In our minds, we imagine the consequences if the train cannot be stopped, or a skier completely loses control.
Organizations are powerful as well. In fact, they can also skid, or speed or lose control. While the organization and the executive leaders who enable the entity to work may not appear to be “spinning out of control,” indeed they can. If key executive leaders run away from making responsive decisions, or if they are constantly in a crisis mode running from one decision to the next, the results can be catastrophic.
Braking the Runaway Organization
The experienced skier, rider or engineer can control the situation because he or she knows themselves and their capabilities. If not, every ride or trip would end badly! The experienced skier has trained to handle the situation.
Strangely, a great percentage of executive leaders are often thrown into situations without enough training or direction. Though they are personally great people, they can get easily overwhelmed with the pressures of leadership. Their decision making is “runaway,” or they completely avoid trying to “brake” and control a situation rather than respond to it. As leaders, they find that they don’t really know themselves and so to compensate, their decision making is often a matter of reacting – or worse, applying the wrong solution to the problem because they believe that is what someone else would do. Sooner or later, if enough decisions are made in this manner the organization will begin to run away. It may not be dramatic at first, but it will pick up steam and performance will be affected.
VIM Executive Coaching is focused on executive mindfulness meditation as a valuable tool because in knowing ourselves, and in understanding our roles in those situations, we can be more responsive. The “enemy” of controlling a runaway situation is reaction without deeper thought and response. Mindfulness meditation and other valuable techniques can transform runaway organizations. They can brake and help control an entire range of decisions.
There may not ever be a movie made of a mindful executive leadership decision, but it is a pretty good guess that many successful movies have been brought to the screen because leaders have responded rather than reacted to the possibilities.