It was not all that long ago that I had a pretty intense travel schedule. Naturally, I enrolled in one of those frequent flyer programs where the goal is to accumulate miles – and status. In fact, when you reached certain plateaus you were “called something else.” For example, you were a Premier Executive or a 1K flyer.
I knew a whole “class” of executives whose sole mission, it seemed, was to accumulate miles, and thereby improve their status. There was even a time when they added “segments” rather than to fly direct. If an executive trying to accumulate miles was flying from LaGuardia Airport to Los Angeles, instead of going non-stop, he might stop in Atlanta and Dallas just to add segments and miles.
Looking back, I can only shake my head at the insignificance and waste of time of it all. An executive with travel of 250,000 miles (and all that status) was deemed to be more important and indispensable than the executive who traveled 30,000 miles a year – and most of that to visit the in-laws!
The same seems to holds true for meeting schedules. I have known many executive leaders and entrepreneurs who overbook themselves with meetings. While some meetings are essential and important, some meetings are best handled by a few staff members to quickly resolve a relatively minor issue. The overbooked executive might hurriedly enter a meeting, tap his feet a few times, and announce he can’t stay long because he is desperately needed at another meeting. The result is the opposite of the ego-driven intent. The executive leader might want to convey that he is busy and important, while the managers below him might feel he is self-centered, unfocused and lacks the capacity to trust.
The questions that emerge from both examples are pretty much the same. Indeed, at VIM Executive Coaching I might ask the same type of question several times a week: what would have happened had you “lost your status” on “Back and Forth Airlines?” What would have happened had to delegated decision making in some of those meetings, and focused very intently on resolving issues in the most important meetings?
It is my way of asking an important question about “the pause.”
We must understand that achieving 200,000 miles a year in an airplane or attending many meetings just to say we’ve made an appearance, are based on a need for status rather than being mindful and in the moment. It is busy work that often has nothing to do with our jobs. Worse, these behaviors may diminish our effectiveness as leaders.
Suppose that instead of adding segments or overbooking a day, that an executive could fit in a 15 minute or half-hour of meditation and thought? What would occur if we allowed ourselves to be much more mindful and much less busy?
Pausing in our day, even for a few minutes, can create some amazing and dynamic effects, providing we are mindful in our intentions. Certainly, I can goof-off for 20 minutes by reading an enticing catalog on river cruises! However, I am talking here about mindful pauses.
Mindful pauses may not improve our status on the airline (in fact, it probably won’t) nor will a mindful pause in lieu of a walk-on appearance in a meeting make an immediate impact, but they will do incredible things for us as executive leaders.
Mindful pauses in our busy days can do many positive things for us. Here are three areas that immediately come to mind:
1.A mindful pause can signal a deeper, wider and greater presence in us. By taking the time to reflect, we allow ourselves to see situations with more clarity and openness. The pause may make it more difficult to get a good chocolate chip cookie in a first-class upgrade, but it may certainly allow us to hold a first-class meeting with managers.
2.A mindful pause in the midst of over-scheduled and over-booked days allow us to see things with greater clarity and perspective. It causes us to look into ourselves and our preconceptions. It allows us to deeply examine our intentions even if we discover that our intentions may be lacking. It can help us change our course if we are honest about what is not working.
3.A mindful pause helps us to re-imagine our expectations. Are we expecting too much of people and situations, or are we settling for too little? Let’s face it, when we cram one meeting into another, they are all the same after a while. We are setting ourselves up for failure because the forest overwhelms us rather than seeing the beauty in each tree. We fail to realize how calm can descend into chaos. Quiet reflection through mindfulness can calm chaotic situations. Mindfulness leads to patience and that’s a very good thing.
Executive leaders have many decisions to make, but none are as important as the choice between unnecessary clutter often borne out of ego, and the sheer joy of taking a few minutes to pause each day to celebrate reflection, peace and mindfulness.