How’s the pace of your business? Most leaders would respond with the word "Accelerating." "Too much to do" is a universal complaint. Leaders find ourselves constantly trying to squeeze out slices of incremental work. So much to be accomplished.

Speed encourages leaders to move quickly along a midline path, to scramble to react to developing situations, to be available to people’s requests and needs, and to try to keep up with ever-deepening piles of work to be done. Technology also encourages this. We can be connected to work 24/7.

When operating at the mid-line, we tend to put our heads down, come in early to attack the e-mail and in box, and never really look up until the sun goes down, wondering where the day has gone. We struggle to keep up and consider a good day as one where we maintained the depth of the paper piles on our desks, and the electronic piles in our e-mails. We are mired in the details, caught firmly in the daily grind.

Sound like a treadmill? It is. One where the speed is accelerating and the level of the incline increasing. How to keep up? And what about the next approaching cycle? What can we do that will make a real difference?

Leaders today must look higher and look deeper. Staying at the mid-line will not resolve issues nor create the opportunities necessary for success; it does assure maintenance of the status quo and less than stellar results.

Going Higher

It is essential to take a time out and move to a 50,000 foot level to gain perspective on situations, as well as look to the future. Getting out of the daily grind is important for progress, performance and results. Go to a higher level for a clearer view of what is actually happening, and to make decisions about how to move from where you are toward your vision. Leaders must do this not only for themselves, but for the people they lead; it is an essential role.

At the midline, in the midst, perspective is impossible to attain. Everything looks urgent. Priorities can be hard to assess. This point of view encourages speed and persistence. But what are you focusing on? Is this task the most important one? To what end?

That perspective can only be gained by stepping out of the midline and taking a higher view. From an over view, patterns and themes can be detected. Pathways can be set.

Going Deeper

The second place to spend time is at the core, going deeper into the underlying dynamics of a situation. Solving the superficial, presenting problem is a temporary fix. Dig into the situation to really understand the dynamics at work, the way people are relating to their work, to each other and to you. From this place, solutions will address the root cause and permanently solve the issue.

Going deeper requires time and awareness. It takes us to new ground, a ground not always explored in business, and that can cause discomfort Get comfortable with discomfort.

The Intentional Leader

Celia, a seasoned leader, has mastered this approach. When she is feeling overwhelmed and out of control, she stops muscling her way through her day. She takes a deep breath, removes herself from the chaos and begins to reflect. She asks herself these questions:

At the higher level:

  • What strategic issues may be contributing to the current situation?
  • Why are we doing this activity at all? Does it move us toward our goal?
  • Is everyone aware of the purpose of the project or initiative? Do they understand
  • how it contributes to the goal?
  • What is the most important thing I could do today to advance this organization toward its goals?

She is aware that it is her role to focus on and communicate all strategic issues.

At the deeper level:

  • What dynamics within the team are contributing to the current situation?
  • Are there patterns here that are posing barriers to progress?
  • What dynamics are ‘residing under the conference table’, those issues that everyone knows are present but that no one is talking about?

She is aware that it is her role to focus on and communicate about all dynamics issues.

Be Intentional

Leaders must be intentional about seeing all aspects of their work—the daily details, the higher vision and the deeper core. Without intentionality, we will be carried along by the current culture, the current situations, and the status quo. Build in frequent checkpoints and wake-up reminders to shift your vision, both higher and deeper, on a regular basis. Continuously scan all areas.

  • Stop
  • Reflect
  • Ask questions that go higher and go deeper
  • Resume activity, with renewed insight, focus and purpose.

Then congratulate yourself for shifting to a leadership approach that can make a real difference.

Barbara Osterman, founder and owner of Human Solutions LLC, is a business leadership consultant and cultural catalyst. She can be reached at 585-586-1717 and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . This article appeared in Business Strategies Magazine, October 2004.

Barbara Osterman
About The Author Barbara Osterman [Full Bio]
Barbara Osterman, founder and owner of Human Solutions LLC, is a business leadership consultant and cultural catalyst. She supports organizations in increasing business performance and results by successfully weaving business initiatives and culture transformations.

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