Today has turned out to be an unusual day for me. This morning, my mom volunteered to take the kids to her place for the day instead of watching them here at our home. Instead of leaving for the office as I typically would, my whole day opened up to me. I started thinking about what I wanted to do and realized, I had no set meetings, nowhere I had to be, just an open day. I couldn’t remember the last time I had these options about how to spend my time. Oddly enough, it made me a little nervous to not have my whole day planned out in my typical, structured way.
My home office is blanketed in natural light by a large bay window that overlooks our backyard. I don’t get the opportunity to enjoy it much and I so I decided working in my home office would be a great way to spend my day. As I sat down at my desk and opened up my laptop, I heard a tap on the window. I looked over and noticed a beautiful red cardinal bird sitting on the window sill looking in on me, curiously. I watched him quietly and then listened to him call out to other birds. He peeked back in on me, ruffled his feathers against the screen then flew off. So I went back to work. A few minutes later, he showed back up with a friend and both of them sat looking in, quiet and still. I chuckled a little to myself… this guy certainly was not going away. I decided to challenge myself to see if I could sit still long enough doing nothing and out last this tiny duo. For twenty minutes or more, these birds and I sat quietly. Now, anyone who knows me knows I’m not really one who stops and smells the roses, or moves slow enough to observe a bird in my back yard, let alone sit still for an extended period of time. Any other day I would have missed these birds and their quirky interest in me. I would have went on responding to emails and following up on action items. But there was something about the way the events of the day unfolded that beckoned me to relax, observe and play with these curious creatures. And in doing so, I think I became something unexpected in the middle of my work day. I became still.
What is stillness? Wikipedia’s definition is the absence of motion; quiet; calm.
What is the role of stillness in leadership when leadership is all about interacting with others and moving things forward? What value can be derived from sitting in silence and observing something outside of ourselves?
According to an influential psychologist, Hans Eyseack, “Stillness is a catalyst for innovation.” He further explains that stillness is a form of observing. When we pause and observe instead of act we are calmer. When we are calm we are more creative, more logical and more in control of our emotions.
Picasso once said, “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.” As leaders, often we are so consumed with the pace of our day that we rarely give ourselves permission to take these moments. Instead we steam roll right over them when they are presented to us. Think about your day and the opportunities you have for being still, observant and calm:
- When someone is telling you how they feel about something important to them
- Standing in line… anywhere
- During meetings
- On the bus, plane or train to work
- Sitting in traffic
What are some possible benefits to taking these opportunities to be still?
- Catch what others miss
- Embrace the discomfort of silence
- Learn to work in solitude in addition to collaboration
- Stay present and calm in the midst of chaos
- Reduce stress
The red bird’s vibrant color and strong call has often been associated with representing personal power, confidence and great strength. I think it’s quite fitting then that when we talk about the importance of stillness in leadership we think of the red bird. Maybe… just maybe, the message for me on this unexpected day was to be still so that I could be more vibrant.
Here is wishing you a still and vibrant day.