Executive leaders are all too often characterized in the following way, “Well, as you know, she was in the right place at the right time,” or the classic variation, “He always had the ability to know just when to show up and insert himself into the project.”
As an executive coach and founder of VIM Executive Coaching, I have heard the quotes about timing that I illustrate above. To be honest, I find that most of the time they are highly inaccurate and unfair. While I would agree that “luck” sometimes plays a role in executive or entrepreneurial life, for the most part luck has nothing to do with it.
I am reminded of two movies I have recently seen in regard to “luck.”
“Hidden Figures,” the story of the African American mathematicians and their contributions to NASA, was a story about overcoming great odds as both women and women of color in a male dominated, white culture, but once they were on the job it was intelligence and skill-set that elevated their mission.
The movie “Dunkirk” may also be taken as an expression of luck, and about being at the right place at the right time, but it was the incredible bravery and sacrifice of ordinary British people who mobilized to avert disaster. Behind those in the flotilla were executives such as Churchill who were quite “unlucky” at the time, but they rose to the occasion and learned from their mistakes.
Make the Timing
To ascribe executive or entrepreneurial success to simply timing is not doing anyone leader justice. Being in Denver for example, I am a Denver Bronco fan. I don’t dress for games in orange and blue face paint, but I do like to follow the team on a casual basis. The franchise has largely been successful not only due to the quality of play on the field, but the excellence of their executive leadership.
The Cleveland Browns is also a multi-million-dollar football franchise. They have lately been terrible. Their field performance has been quite poor, but their executive decision making behind the scenes has been worse. My point is that in a game such as football where split second timing can be critical, it is not the occasional dropped pass or missed tackles that have hurt the Browns, but an executive failure to recruit wisely, to implement a quality coaching staff, to see opportunities in the market and to follow a consistent plan for development. They have not put people in with a good skillset and they have not learned from their mistakes.
It is not a matter of being at the right place at the right time or knowing when to show up. It is much more a matter of working toward the goal of being present in the moment and maximizing one’s role in that moment. Skill-set cannot be faked and neither can authenticity.
The men who set out in a flotilla to rescue soldiers on the beaches may have been civilians but they were highly skilled sea going fishermen who were 100% authentic in their desire to contribute and to save lives. While they may not have meditated daily, or even had the intention to meditate, they were mindful of what they had to do and they were completely present in the moment.
The women of “Hidden Figures” may not have meditated either, but they instinctively knew the importance of the moment for the country, their gender, their race and themselves. They were also present and authentic; there was little choice.
Behind the public scene of professional football are experienced executives who see it for the business that it is. They are, if good executive leaders, present in the moment and authentic in how they operate. Talent on the field does not appear there by mistake, there is an entire team of coaches, lawyers, management, accounting, marketing and sales that go to make a product.
Better Timing is the Result
In the final analysis, “timing” is rarely a matter of chance, it is more a matter of personal awareness and a willingness to sacrifice within the moment. Ultimately, it is answering the question of what is important to the mission, and how may that mission be best achieved.
For the executive leader, it comes down to passion, authenticity, mindfulness and responsiveness. Whether it is being in the moment, recruiting properly, managing a personnel issue or calculating the probabilities of a win or the launch of a rocket, nothing replaces authenticity. If enough authentic moments are strung together, then the timing of the situation is a lot more favorable than leaving it up to chance.