The Voice for Insightful Leadership with Shelley Row, P.E.

The rain was steady as I waited in Starbucks. We planned to meet over coffee and talk about collaborating. As usual, I anticipated a busy day working through my to-do list – the one that stretched to infinity. Each day it felt like the list grew longer, and I hung on by my fingernails. My mind raced. Follow up on leads prepare for my upcoming programs; write the next blog and more. Somewhere in there was life. That’s when Tony Diekemper walked in.

Tony is the CEO of Skyline Technology Solutions. He and I had connected through a business associate. Skyline is unlike most companies. It has a culture of integrity that employees live and practice every day. Between Tony and founder, Brian Holsonbake, they provide inspired leadership.

Tony offered to review my business goals and provide feedback on my leadership program which he recently attended. We didn’t do that. Instead, he asked about the constraints in my business. “That’s easy,” I said, “Time.” Tony shook his head no. “Everyone has time constraints – think more deeply.” And that’s when it hit me. My constraint was thinking.

As I sat in Starbucks I realized that each day, I plow through action items that need to be addressed. If I had time – which I never do – I would read, think, ponder and create. But Tony is always thinking deeper, looking for big picture connections, noting underlying issues, connecting to purpose. I used to do that….earlier in my career before I became “important” – an “executive.” When did I lose the thinking and start just doing?
When I was in my government position, I was constantly scurrying from meeting to meeting. There was no downtime. Looking back on it, I realize that I felt a rush of satisfaction from all the busy-ness. “Look at me! I’m so busy. I have all of these meetings. I’m so important.”

To sit in the office and think…..well, who has the time for that? Great leaders, that’s who. For example, I interviewed the leader of a transportation organization who told me that for 15 minutes each day, he closes his door, props his feet up on his desk and stares out the window. Brilliant. I share that story in my decision-making programs but I don’t do it myself. Tony’s behavior helped me see it…finally.

For those of you (like me) for whom busy-ness is a badge of honor, think about it. How does all that busy activity move the ball? How does it result in creativity? How does it break through the same-old thing? It’s so easy to be captured by the activity and be lulled into believing that we are making a difference or making progress. Maybe. More likely we’re just busy. Because of my recent interest in the neuroscience of leadership, I understand that thinking comes from one part of the brain (neocortex) but there is so much more waiting in long-term memory (basal ganglia). Thinking, creativity and insight comes from the combination of the two. The brain can’t make the connections when you are busy with activity. It needs quiet to sort and recombine information into new thoughts. I know this; I just haven’t been applying it.

My constraint is still time but it’s specifically the time to read, think, consider, create, in order to see my business, my industry and my work differently. What I do matters and I care that it gets out into the world – just as you care about yours. But activity is low leverage. Thinking is high leverage. I don’t have time for low leverage.

Thanks, Tony, for the inspiration. Let’s all take a few minutes to ponder.