In today’s hyper-connected online world, we need to stand out. We need to attract attention, to be colourful and easily identifiable through masses of other information and noise out there. We can’t afford to fall into the world of ‘sameness’ that so many seem to. And there’s just so much sameness around right now. The only difference is the voice to the same conversation of how little time there is, that there’s so much to do and how busy we are. This isn’t conducive to influential or relevant leadership and in fact, it’s incredibly beige.
When we get caught in the vortex of busy, when we’re running to keep up with everything else that’s happening out there around us, we become beige as a leader.
One of the great things though is that people seem to be becoming more cognisant of this. I was only chatting with a leader the other day who was saying how sick he was of thinking, saying and doing busy. I wanted to hug him but it wasn’t appropriate at the time! He went on to say how sick he was of hearing it. He hears it at home from his wife, from his team when he asks how they are and also from his elderly parents. Busy has transcended generations and even though his parents retired long ago they have caught the busy bug too!
Influential leaders we admire refuse to be busy – they refuse to be beige. They ensure they are spending their valuable time on strategic thinking and proactive actions, thinking ahead, while also doing what it takes to keep the business going in the present moment. They think about what’s happening and wonder ‘how can I do better?’ rather than ‘how can I survive?’
With all this sameness and beige thinking, there is a huge risk of being caught in the status quo. The ‘status quo’ is a dangerous place to be if you’re a leader today. It is a stagnant and stifling place of acceptance. It’s where we resist change, innovation and creativity. If you choose the status quo, you risk falling behind your competition into obscurity.
As leadership pioneer, Dr Jason Fox said at the Future of Leadership conference 2016: ‘Busy is getting in the way of making clever happen. The capacity for slow and considered thinking is crowded out at a time when we need to be thinking differently.’
A few years ago, I was engaged to work with a leader of a large business who wasn’t performing well. It was like he had accepted his fate. He had decided he was too busy to handle his workload and there wasn’t much he could do about it. He’d stuck his head in the sand and accepted the status quo. His results reflected his attitude – they were poor to say the very least. His team also reflected his attitude, they were directionless and disengaged. The staff turnover rate in his business was very high, which should have signalled alarm bells for him. His leadership had not just become irrelevant, but also reckless.
Acceptance of the status quo is a direct result of how distracted, exhausted and busy we are. We don’t feel like we have the energy to handle any changes in our business or market, let alone to lead others through it. So we switch on autopilot and remain as is. The problem is that in times like these, as a leader, it is imperative that we evolve our thoughts, assess our strategies and goals, work hard to motivate our team and ensure we remain relevant in the marketplace.
However, the thought of having to do more with seemingly less time seems incredibly overwhelming. Add to this the pressure of understanding younger generations we work with, getting our head around new technology, legislation and employment laws, or navigating new marketing strategies, complexities and uncertainty. It’s no wonder that embracing the future or what our client needs seems all too hard! We put this stuff on the back burner until it’s either too late or has gotten to the urgent stage and we have to address it.
Successful leaders don’t get stuck in the status quo. They constantly challenge the norm and ask ‘why is this happening?’ To be a successful and relevant leader today you must be curious and accept you can’t succeed on your own. You must adopt a collaborative and inclusive approach that embraces all generations, genders and new ways of operating and leading that is way beyond the bland and obvious.
Something we can do to stand out, to be heard and inject a bit of colour into this beige world of busy is to buck the trend. Adopt a different language, adopt a different mindset and see busy for what it is. Non-descript and boring. Choose to be relevant, choose to lead with influence rather than choosing to be busy. Because after all, this is a real choice we’re making and it can be a significantly costly one at that.