So many managers and leaders these days are dealing with wholesale sea change, not just little shifts in the level of the tide. Not minor waves of change, a process here and there, but overwhelming, multifaceted shifts. Covid. Turnover. New leaders. Restructuring. Priorities expanded. All of the above, overnight. The whole organization in ongoing redefinition, old and new worlds recombined. A state of permanent, turbulent white water.
I was talking with one of my favorite colleagues about all this the other day and we brainstormed what might help him the most. Call it a fundamental “reset” of some kind, or a “breather” of major proportions, the point is that the human beings are tired, confused, angry, anxious — and something has to give.
The traditional model, of course, is that when there’s more to do, we work harder, keep going, not only not stop but speed up, and that’s exactly what a lot of people have been doing. And because that’s basically doing the same thing and expecting a different result, it’s also insane. There has to be a “something else:” Here’s what my colleague and I brainstormed together, in four steps:
Pause. Pause means stop. It doesn’t mean kind of stopping as if rolling through a stop sign at 30 miles an hour. It means bringing the vehicle to a halt. The wheels not turning. Because if you don’t the brain won’t stop and whatever groove you happen to be in will continue, even if it’s one heading for a cliff. So pause actually means halt. It means create time. If you don’t create time there won’t be any of it at all. Stop acting, stop doing, stop thinking for a little while. Breathe.
This is actually a pattern that’s been observed for a long time in organizations that are becoming or have become dysfunctional. The people can’t slow down. They have so much wrong stuff to do in the wrong way that they don’t have the capacity to change. It’s always been like that. It’s imperative that we not look at what we’re doing or the way we’re doing it lest we get behind; lest we get in trouble; lest…lest…lest….Dysfunctional organizations always have lots of reasons why they can’t stop being dysfunctional.
Reflect. Reflect means examine, think about from a fresh standpoint, search for patterns and meanings. It does not mean bringing forward the same age old assumptions and biases and conspiracy theories about the way things are and deeming it “renewal.” It means challenging and carefully looking at whatever theories have taken hold and are taken for granted as “truth.” Reflect means thinking for yourself, and also thinking with other people as it is demonstrated via actual listening.
Reflection cannot be done without the pause, the quiet, the sitting next to the river and watching how it flows. It isn’t a fight with reality. Rather, it’s letting the gradual, the sensed, the intuitive, the possible emerge from the swirling and muddied water. It’s letting the dirt naturally clear from the spring. Reflection is seeing the depths, seeing through the water to the bottom, not just seeing your own face and projections mirrored in surface light.
Refocus. Refocusing is bringing things back into clarity. What is important now? What’s doable? What plans have been revised or revitalized or thrown out completely in favor of a whole new way of getting things done. This is about the creation of order. Without the pause, there will be no reflection. Without the reflection, there will be no new order. The pause is more than a mere vacation. The reflection is more than getting lost in abstractions. To refocus means to choose new kinds of coherence and direction based on seeing all the way through where we’ve been and where we are today.
Refocusing is not tactical so much as strategic. It isn’t about cramming more in, working harder, or calling old things by new names. It represents finding and calling out the true leverage points that make all the difference, that lead to a sense of true progress, shared accomplishment and results. Refocusing demands we cut through older ways of getting things done to find human-sized and humanized solutions.
Reignite. Reignite means to light the fire again. To live in the vision of what’s possible now, not tomorrow or the day after. Reignite is the burning ember pulled out of the dead coals, the conversion of insight to action. The wheels begin to turn again. The tribe moves forward, but with a little more grace and elegance against the landscape, with beauty and unity. There’s a new simplicity that has been reignited, a new, better way forward through the mountains, a new clarity of purpose, a better path.
Reignition isn’t mindless passion; it’s mindful passion. It is more like a journey, a movement of new awareness. As William Bridges’ theory of transition goes through stages of loss and ambiguity before finding a new beginning, so too reignition represents a kind of metanoia, a shift not only of mind but also of heart.
The purpose of these four stages is straightforward — to lead through connection, not through what’s robotic or rigid; through present, inclusive, identity-building choice, not the dull, soul-killing pressures and inertias of unconsciousness. Nothing is easier than to just keep going, keep pushing, as if winning against all odds and conquering all circumstances were a matter of brute force, with the emphasis on brute.