It’s been a tough week. I’m trying to finish the draft of a book explaining the principles of Slow Leadership. There seems to come a point where ideas you once thought were clear and powerful start to look tired and superficial. Maybe it’s something like the point runners say they reach in a long race where it seems impossible to go on; a barrier you must break through to get anywhere near the winning line; the victory over yourself that must precede any other victory.
I began formulating the thoughts behind Slow Leadership in the fall of 2005. When I look back at some of the early articles I wrote on the topic, they seem almost naïve. It’s come a long way since then — a long way along a path that has added a good deal of depth and complexity to the starting idea.
What began as a simple plea to slow down and take the time to think has become a contrarian style of leadership : one based on dropping the quick-fix, “just-get-it-done-somehow” style of leading, with its emphasis on short-term profits and “grab-and-go” ethics. Today’s textbook styles of leadership have dumbed-down the process into a series of rules-of-thumb and fashionable panaceas.
Breakthrough demands you push beyond the obvious and the conventional. It’s going places you don’t think you can reach. It’s getting to your limit — then going still further. We have a world of work populated with more MBAs than ever before. Yet there has been no appreciable improvement in management over the early part of the twentieth century — maybe even the latter part of the nineteenth.
No one will find new ideas and better ways to run their working lives by focussing on the ideas of the past, which is what most business schools teach. Education is precious, but it’s not achieved through being able to repeat the details of ideas that now have only historical interest. It comes from the willingness to push into uncharted territories of the mind, seeking newer and better questions — and refusing to be fobbed off with those old, worn-out answers.
What holds you back from achieving breakthrough? Untested, old-fashioned assumptions certainly do. So do the false certainties of fashionably pseudo-scientific management techniques. Let them go. There’s only one way to break out of your current limits: challenging yourself to go deeper and further than you’ve ever gone before. The entry to breakthrough and mastery starts with being a learner — a person who knows only that he or she does not know what matters; at least, not yet. True learners give up all the established certainties and challenge every dogma. They risk everything in the search for knowledge.
Are you willing to do what it takes to reach your own breakthrough?
Adrian Savage is an Englishman, a writer and a retired business executive. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his serious thoughts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership; and his crazier ones at The Coyote Within.