Eyes up and out…
I thrive on horizons. It’s all over most of my writing, speaking and coaching. That’s my strength- always seeing or creating the horizon, no matter the situation- for others, for myself, for challenges. The path to get from here to there comes easily, too- my brain automatically conjures several ways at once. The challenge for me actually occurs when I have to look down. I got that today.
As I set out for a run, most of my normal path was covered with snow and ice- not treacherous, but enough that I had to slow down and really pay attention to every step to avoid falling. I HATED it. Crazy how much I hated it. Breathing harder, working to get traction and tensed up as I navigated the right places to land and push off, I found myself completely irritated that I was spending so much energy to go slower when I really wanted to just look up and out at the horizon and run full out toward it.
Gee- a little metaphor, there? So much about leadership, what it takes to make progress, and of course how I’m wired.
Understanding the focal point that gives you strength is key.
Part of what it takes to lead and make change happen is being able to see and hold a focal point of what’s possible and where we’re going. Call it vision, horizon, the long view- a future state of what’s possible that’s different from where we are right now. This is critical. Organizations, teams and relationships without this can get mired in what is or what’s always been, which can lead to stagnation, circular issues and overall fatigue. Someone’s got to be able to look up and out of it, see possibility, help everyone else see and focus it vividly, and hold it as the focal point to progress toward. It’s not that we ignore the present, don’t honor the past or are never looking down, but the pull has to be more forward to the horizon than down at each step on the path.
That ratio of focus is important- notice it.
Looking primarily down at where to place each step at a time is a different kind of focus. It’s deliberate, slower and careful. It’s necessary too- so we don’t actually get taken down by landing on some little slippery patch of detail along the way because we’re not paying attention to what we’re doing tactically, step by step. Having people who are wired to focus this way is critical to balance any good leadership team. While I can do this, I know it’s not where my patience or strength lie at all… so I really value the people on my team who bring this present, careful step-at-a-time thinking first. They offer ballast to my horizon.
The key is finding some balance in focal points.
The first half of the run was miserable, because I was spending more time looking down than up, muscling my way through it to think tactically about each step without losing too much momentum. I kept going because I knew it was only necessary for so long before I could get traction again to accelerate. This is sometimes how I lead, too. I’ll muscle my way through the deliberate slowness (often impatiently) until I can get the necessary traction (right team, right support, right game) to accelerate toward what’s possible again. Then my strength as a leader comes out, and my energy can carry us all forward quickly.
By the second half of the run, I was able to balance a bit more- looking down at my steps, then up at my horizon more equally. Probably more down than I prefer, but doable. Just that little ratio increase of up and out vs. down and narrow helped tremendously. It actually made me tactically more deft in the moment, able to navigate nimbly and quickly. Toggling between horizon and steps, long view and details, strategy and tactics in running or leading- connects the whole picture enough for my energy to increase, thinking to clear a bit and stride to relax.
Just that added bit of what energizes can be enough to carry and fuel the rest.
When I finally got back to dry path for the last few legs of my run, I couldn’t help but notice how everything shifted. My gait, my speed, my breath all smoothed, and I accelerated. My thinking opened up, my ideas started flowing again, and I found my stride. Of course I had my direct steps in peripheral sight and looked down to maneuver smartly as needed, but most of my focus was up, out and forward. I was reminded of how instantly fulfilled and impactful I can be when my focal point is where I’m strongest… on the horizon, where possibility is.
This explains why I love the last stretch of every run, including today’s. It’s where I run down the middle of my street, focusing on a precise horizon- the very top of a 4-story tree at the end of the road. As I do, I quit pushing and become pulled by that treetop, sprinting full out, 100%. Everything peripherally falls away, all the best ideas in my head come together, and I hit my personal best… as I always do with a horizon that’s clear, magnetic and vivid. Those moments of going full-out with everything I’ve got are exhilarating, symbolic of what’s possible and what we can pull out of ourselves, and definitely what I love the most. On all of my paths, slogging through the rest to get to that as a person and as a leader is worth it every time.
Find those moments of personal best- both fulfilled and impactful- to make all the rest worth it along your path.