I’m a hockey fan. My favorite team isn’t very good right now, but I cheer for them anyway. In some ways I cheer for them to lose right now as if they do they will get a better draft choice and they will improve faster. But my heart always cheers for them to win even though my brain tells me it would be better in the long run if they were to lose every game this season. There is a balance in that. Just like every hockey game starts at center ice (other sports are the same way). When I read this I kind of wonder what it would be like if my team always started in the offensive zone … wouldn’t we win a lot more games if that happened? We certainly don’t want to start in the defensive zone, as there’s a lot of risk to that!
Or would we? If we knew we were going to start in the offensive zone all the time would we show up with our best stuff and try to dominate or would we take our advantage for granted and squander it? If we always had to work our way out of the defensive zone would we show up defeated or more resolute to persevere?
When we think of the extremes, the choice of where to end up often less obvious than we think. If we compare two people:
- One a highly successful business person with all the wealth he/she could ask for, but no time enjoy it with family and friends.
- A subsistence third world farmer who works all day to ensure his family has food, and then spends his entire evening reveling in their company.
Are we required to choose?
Or do we intuitively steer towards a middle path?
To extend this metaphor further, I often think about the balance in how I show up every day. When I look back on a period where I wasn’t really on top of my game, I often see that I was swinging through the extremes of highs/lows and goods/bads. In good times, I can honestly claim that things were just good all the time. Not great, but not ever bad. But consistent good is so rewarding!
I like to call this state being centered. When I’m in that state, I’m fully in touch with what is happening in the moment. I’m very aware of me and what is acting on me, but in that state it is interesting to note that it is much easier to be aware of what is happening for someone else, and by doing so shift our presence to match theirs.
I usually know how to find this state. Some simple exercises or meditations can bring us there, and then a healthy dose of gratitude and perspective can keep us there for long periods of time. I think of myself as a pendulum, hanging elegantly on a line, perfectly still. But perfectly still doesn’t really fit with the nature of the world.
If that pendulum is sitting on a table, then someone might bump that table and get it moving a bit. And then a window gets opened and the breeze catches that motion and amplifies it. Finally the cat wanders by and gives it a swat and it is swinging about wildly, rarely spending a moment close to its centre.
Our lives are like that, particularly at work. We don’t necessarily sense the effects of each force that acts on our pendulum, because the initial forces don’t nudge it out of our comfort zone. But as they start to add up and the arc of the swing lengthens, we sometimes find ourselves wondering how to settle everything down.
How would things be different if we noticed every nudge on our pendulum. What if we understood that it isn’t good for our pendulum to sit inert, motionless. What if we understood that a certain swing in our engagement with the world provided us perspective and energy.
But what if we also knew our limits, and knew the trick to slowing the swing of our pendulum down?
To me this is the ultimate leadership capability. That ability to be totally present at any moment, with all of the people we are working with, but also to be aware of our own degree of “centeredness” and the forces that are acting on it at any time and then manage these things simultaneously. It’s magic when it happens, but for me I can’t claim that it is easy or even that it happens the majority of the time.
But experiencing that state is enough to know that it is a place to strive to be all the time!