Boots and Pants
Your email has topped an all-time high of 3,000, you have long forgotten the key to deleting, deferring and delegating tasks. You are scheduled in back to back meetings for the unforeseeable future, these meetings occur across multiple time-zones. You currently have 3 key job openings on your team, one in Beijing, one in Dublin and the other in North Dakota. In the evenings you are sourcing talent because things in HR just aren’t moving fast enough. You fought to own project lightening and committed to having it complete in the next month but you have hit a major snag with stakeholder buy-in. Your boss just called you into an emergency meeting to share news about an internal audit that you need to be a key part of – you own the data after all – and the audit must be completed in two weeks. You feel immobilized, frozen with panic in the thick of chaos with no clear way out.
Now that I have successfully increased your stress level with this all too familiar image of what many of us deal with from time to time at work, I will share one of my favorite methods to help shift perspective.
Let’s think of another chaotic environment. Imagine yourself at a party. Not just any party, THE party of the century. You are in a very cool club. It is loud, so loud that you feel the music in your body, like an external rapid heartbeat. It sounds like BOOTS AND PANTS AND BOOTS AND PANTS AND BOOTS AND PANTS. You can’t quite make out the words or even much of the music but the beat is hypnotic and you are on the floor with the crowd of your favorite people sharing your best dance moves. The floor is gummy as if it is covered in duct tape, but it is just the sticky goodness of the summery drinks splashing to the floor as everyone celebrates. In fact the cold drinks are great because it is one of the hottest summers on record and with everyone on the dance floor, packed in tight, you can feel the heat emanating from your friends. The smell of the fruity drinks and the sweat mixed with the dark room and flashing colored lights is making you feel claustrophobic. You notice that someone across the room has started to jump up and down and others are beginning to join in. All you can think about is a quick exit. Across the room you can see that there is a terrace with big sliding doors and thankfully they are wide open so with your hands in the air you start to dance towards the terrace and the fresh air.
You climb three spectacular stone steps to the terrace that overlooks the city below. You are completely unrestricted as this terrace runs the length of the entire side of the building and you can breathe. Since you are very high up you can see the city lights but hear very little sound from the streets below. It is quiet, you still hear the boots and pants and boots and pants, however the distance has softened the harshness of the music, you can now hear the lyrics. The stone under your feet is smooth and calming and you suddenly wish you could take your shoes off and feel the coolness on your bare feet. As you look back at the dance floor your friends are still in their celebratory pandemonium and while you are still a part of this fun, you are now seeing things you hadn’t noticed when you were in the crowd. You notice who the influencers are, like Susie starting the line dance, or Joe ordering snacks. You notice who is shy and stands aside and who is worried about what others will think if they join in to do the lawn mower.
Your perspective has entirely shifted because you left the dance floor and observed from the terrace. After a few minutes, you have been joined by 4 others all standing quietly and observing. It is a blast to be on the dance floor – the chaos is energizing but taking the time to see things differently is a great way to learn more about others and the situation as a whole. You are able to see a much broader ecosystem with all of the synergies, interactions, potential risks and easy wins.
It happens to all of us, the overwhelming, chaotic but exciting sensation of too much to do without enough time. Often this overwhelming sensation makes it seem as though everything is speeding up, happening at once and it’s all critical. We don’t often realize there is a nice terrace in waiting.
Next time you are in what feels like a chaotic environment take a moment to shift your perspective.
1. Participate in the fun. It is exhilarating, energizing and habit forming to be a part of the chaos. When you are there, really notice the chaos, inventory it, and allow it to deliver every sensation, really feel the BOOTS AND PANTS AND BOOTS AND PANTS, and experience the speed, the claustrophobia, the fun and revel in it!
2. Take the time to be on the terrace. Imagine physically leaving the chaos and moving to the terrace (this can be any place or environment that separates you from the chaos) but you need a good space to just watch – just be the observer for a while. Note how you feel and what sensations you are having on the terrace.
3. Observe the patterns in the chaos. Be still on the terrace and look at the dance floor and all of the chaos. What can you still sense? Who is influencing others? What is important to the group? What is motivating the group? Is there an underlying culture or theme?
4. Plan next steps. Develop your deliberate plan of action, choose your next move – what are the top 3 things in order of importance or priority that you can do to calm the chaos? What are the critical components that you have the ability to impact or shift? Maybe you quiet the music, turn on a fan, and start collecting trash?
When you are able to step off of the dance floor for a moment and see things from a different perspective, not only are you able to prioritize the needs of the group, you are also providing a calm space for others so that they can practice being more deliberate and thoughtful in their actions.
As a leader I try to split my time on and off the dance floor. It is great to be a part of the group and cheer the team on but I also understand the importance of showing the path off of the dance floor for a rest and regroup every now and then.