Running the Race and Smelling the Roses, Both!

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Our daily, walking-around behavior could indict us on several very serious charges.

1. Charge: That we believe ourselves to know more than anyone else.

2. Charge: That we believe ourselves to be the only effective actors on the scene.

3. Charge: That we are disinterested in the concerns and contributions of others.

4. Charge: That we believe that there’s no God.

“Hold up, now, Johnny-boy!” I hear you saying. “I most certainly do not believe that I know more than others, or that I’m the only effective contributor in my organization. I absolutely do care about the concerns and the contributions being brought forward by others! And how dare you suggest that I don’t believe there’s a God?”

I hear you saying this, and I’m sympathetic. Your protest is probably justified. But I think my own daily behavior is vulnerable to these very charges. And maybe we have some issues in common.

To wit: The effort we expend to truly see and understand what our colleagues are seeing and saying is minimal. As a rule, we listen poorly, and we hear even less. We think what we think, paste horse blinders along the sides of our temples, doggedly pursue what we believe is the goal … and miss out on most of the opportunity that lies before us. In our daily pursuits, we more or less get what we’re after, maybe, but in the process, we dash past the many prospects of far greater prize. And we commit these acts of blindness and deafness, missing untold opportunities every single day of our working and walking-around lives.

In short, we don’t pay attention. Like the problem of walking and chewing gum at the same time, we don’t know how to pursue the prize we’re after and also to remain simultaneously watchful for the surprises that are everywhere. We don’t know how to press forward and also observe what’s going on at the periphery.

I was sitting with an executive team that was struggling with a significant organizational habit of missing the delivery schedules on their key deals. The CEO was frustrated and on a rant. The newest project, as before, had been laid out very carefully! Margin had been built into the timelines, and every detail had been put onto Gantt Charts, with accountability for managing every doggone aspect of the project clearly specified! The veins on the CEO’s neck were bulging, and he was calling his people, “People!” Loudly!

I’ve been in rooms like this many times. The project looks good on paper, but it doesn’t work out as planned.

One of the more introverted men in the room made a quiet comment, calling attention to the fact that he had made the very same comment on the day that the boss had told them they were going to take this deal. But the boss plowed on.

My intervention on that day sounded like this.

Me: “Robert!”

Robert: “Huh?”

Me: “Did you hear what Donald just said?”

Robert: “What?”

Me: “Donald, say it again.”

That wasn’t the whole of it, of course. Donald had understood why this project had failed, why it was doomed from the beginning, as a matter of fact. And I began the work of coaching Robert on how to pay better attention, how to pay attention on purpose.

Attentiveness has to be purposeful, you see. We must be intentional about being attentive! We must build up the muscle for it, work it, get coaching in the task of becoming more aware – just as we would in any other high performance skill that needs improvement.

And then Robert, Donald, and the team and I went to work on how to respond to what we are attending to. We became more intentional so that we could become more attentive, and we became more attentive so that we could become more responsive.  Be intentional about being attentive! Be attentive so you can be responsive. 

And why is this important work?

Because there are people around us who know stuff that we need to know, and we’re missing most of it.

Because there is capacity and skill at hand that is being squandered. Everybody might be super-busy, but that doesn’t mean that they’re being well utilized.

Because the things that our colleagues see, think and know are the make-or-break of many work endeavors. Tap into what’s around you, and make it! Run past these things, and break it!

And what does God have to do with any of this. Simply this: the world is either nothing but material stuff, or it is all that AND spiritual too. If it’s all just material stuff, then what we must do is push that stuff around with all the muscle we’ve got. If it’s all just stuff – just a bunch of matter in a material world – then we can’t and shouldn’t anticipate serendipities, gifts, hidden orchestrations, or miraculous breakthroughs. No point in paying attention! What’s to see?

Which is why I suggested that our daily, walking-around behavior could indict us of the charge that we believe that there’s no God. If our behavior is like that of a steam-roller, then we likely believe, in our heart of hearts, that we’re all we’ve got. It’s on us.

But if we aren’t alone, then we need to pay attention. There’s more afoot than we’re aware of. More assets available than are listed on our balance sheet. More possibilities for awesome outcomes than we can see.

Can you walk and chew gum at the same time? Run a hard race and smell the roses, too? Pursue your goals with all your might and also remain wide-awake to what’s around you. Do you have a certain daily or regular discipline that you use to help you do this? A rhythm of work, reflection, reading, retreat, prayer?

How do you stay attentive and responsive?

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