With so much information flying at us every day, it's essential for the successful leader to find time to turn inward.
I'm fascinated by words. I enjoy creating turns of phrase (like saying how the legal department is the one that puts the 'no' in innovation), listening to those who know how to wield the English language, and the discovery of odd and arcane words.
I came across just such a word last week: ephemerons.
If you're anything like me, you probably haven't heard or seen it used before, but you can discern what it means.
Knowing the meaning of ephemeral (temporary) or ephemera (memorabilia expected to have short-term popularity) and the context in which it was used, I could discern it.
I found it in A Writer’s Life by Gay Talese, in which he wrote about being a newspaper journalist (circa 1960). He said:
“We were ephemerons.”
Even then — nearly sixty years ago — he knew that what was being chronicled for print in The New York Times was here and then gone in the space of a day.
In some ways, that seems like a luxury today, when the life cycle of a tweet is hours or even minutes.
Campaigns, emails to employees, quarterly earnings calls, tweets, texts, Stories (from Snapchat or copycats Instagram/Facebook) — not to mention the insanity of the news cycle — they're constantly surrounding us, threatening to drown us in a sea of information.
I recently wrote: "We used to consume the news. Now it consumes us."
What's a well-meaning but fuddled individual to do?
Well, over the course of the last few days, I've come across disparate pieces of content that all point in the right direction.
Ready for the answer?
That's it. Peace and quiet.
Plus the ability to be comfortable with it and to make use of it.
In an interview on Stay Tuned with Preet, New Yorker editor David Remnick said silence is an interviewer's best tool. When an interviewer is comfortable with silence, it gives them time to think and it leaves the interviewee an opportunity to fill the gap, which can lead to more revealing answers.
When I give speeches, one of the tactics I use is the long pause. It's a calculated risk. Some people are afraid of silence when they're on a stage in front of an audience. There are too many speakers who are so excited to share everything they know, and they let everything pour forth at the speed of sound.
Me? I pause.
Why? Because it lets people soak in what I'm saying (some of it is deep). But also because it lends more gravitas.
Try it in a meeting some time, when you have control of the floor.
People will be on the edge of their seats. They'll be eagerly anticipating what's coming next.
I was treated to a short video of Mister Rogers (aren't all of his messages so simple yet so profound?) talking to Charlie Rose in which he reflected on our boisterous world:
"A lot of people who have allowed me to have some silence. I don’t think we get that very much any more. I'm very concerned that our society is much more interested in information than wonder. In noise rather than sound. How do we encourage reflection?"
Information rather than wonder.
Think about that for a moment. We just mentioned General Eisenhower and the power of imagination over sheer data earlier this week.
What makes your imagination race? What gives you wonder?
We can't wonder if we don't have quiet time. Time to reflect. Serenity.
Serenity—or tranquility—is perhaps the greatest virtue in life.
To be tranquil is to be able to sit quietly and enjoy today without a nod to the past or a glance toward the future.
That observation is trite, I know. But aren't all the great truths of life trite?
Sadly, not many people can achieve the related mood of perfect serenity. When they are young their eyes are on a distant horizon. When they grow older their memories play tricks with the past.
And when we're in the middle, living our lives, running our companies, managing our teams, that's the most critical time for reflection.
In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Jennifer Porter wrote:
"Reflection gives the brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning. This meaning becomes learning, which can then inform future mindsets and actions."
Reflection leads to meaning, meaning becomes learning, and that informs our decisions.
If you're a leader who exhibits emotional intelligence (and I hope that you are), that consists partly of self-awareness, and you can't have self-awareness without self-reflection.
Serenity is a precious compound. But because it only exists in the present, it is fleeting. Ephemeral.
It is hard to capture in the imagination. It's even more difficult to capture in daily motion.
Ideas for Reflection
There's no single best way to reflect and be introspective. You'll need to find what works best for you. But here are a few ideas to get you started.
Do you sleep with your phone next to your bed? You should stop that right now. And when you do get up in the morning, don't make your phone the first thing you reach for.
Begin your day with 15 minutes of meditation or exercise. Or maybe making coffee is a ritual for you. Use that time to turn inward. Don't get sucked into emails, Facebook updates, tweets or anything electronic until you've had time to spend time with yourself.
Perhaps there's a favorite book or devotional you like to read. Or maybe you like to express your thoughts by writing in a journal. Spending time with paper objects can help with reflection.
Block Your Calendar
If it's not written down, it's not a priority. And if it's not in your daily schedule, it gets neglected. Block time on your calendar when you can spend it by yourself, working on yourself.
What You Need
As you consider what you'll be reflecting on, consider the questions you might want to answer:
What's holding me back?
How can I be more helpful to my colleagues?
What perspective(s) am I missing?
What do I tend to neglect or shy away from?
What's working well right now? How can I do more of that?
I hope you'll commit to joining me for a slower, more deliberate approach amidst the knee-jerk reactionaries of the online world.
Together, we'll parse out what matters and what will make you a better leader.
The prescription is undeniably simple:
Less dot com. More dot calm.
If you’d like a little more serenity in your life, our weekly essays may be just the thing. You can sign up as a Premium member for free for a month:
“Let me recommend this book.” – Arthur Conan Doyle
From Ryan Holiday’s Stillness Is the Key:
“Stillness is what aims the archer’s arrow. It inspires new ideas. It sharpens perspective and illuminates connections. It slows the ball down so that we might hit it. It generates a vision, helps us resist the passions of the mob, makes space for gratitude and wonder. Stillness allows us to persevere. To succeed. It is the key that unlocks the insights of genius, and allows us regular folks to understand them.”
A Quote to Ponder
“It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment.” — Cicero