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Close-in Leadership


arrow on concrete

I recently finished reading Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. When I was younger, the fear of death would keep me up at night. I’d be lying if I said I never feel that rope of terror tightening around my chest still, knowing that one day will be the last time I feel the warm touch of the people I love. Four Thousand Weeks confronts our finitude, so reading it was, at times, a difficult, but essential, experience. I’ve also been reading a lot of David Whyte, who says this in his poem titled “Start Close In”:


Start close in,

don’t take the second step

or the third,

start with the first

thing

close in,

the step

you don’t want to take.


Burkeman and Whyte are digging at the same truth: this is it. Like many people reading, I suspect, I too have fixated on productivity. I’ve tried to optimize my time on planet Earth, looking for ways to make a difference, to spend my days well and with purpose. But these efforts often focus on that second, third, or sixty-first step. They fail to recognize that this consciousness is all we get. In fact, the productivity craze is so obsessed with the future that it almost always overlooks or dims the present. I’ll spare you the book report and share three ways that starting close in has helped me as a leader.


Celebrate the Done List


To-do lists help us get things done, but a done list inspires confidence, and confidence is the jet fuel of leadership. I recently sat down with my colleagues and presented what we had accomplished in a couple of weeks––highlighting the smaller pieces that went into solving a larger puzzle––and I was surprised to hear how reassured everyone was with evidence of action. As leaders, we can get so caught up in what’s next, that we forget to celebrate what we’re doing. It’s a simple practice, and it should be done with humility, yet it’s far more likely to inspire further action than an endless stream of demands.


Show the Data


Good data helps us see the trees in the forest. It’s mindfulness at its best. Being aware of each small part and realizing the interconnectedness that forms a perceptible pattern. Whether you are evolving a stubborn system, confirming the attainment of your purpose, searching for the next move on the board––answers are in the data. Sorry, crystal ballers and gut feelers, the proof is in the pudding. If you want to make people believe, show them the facts.


Entrust the Team


As long as people know you are willing to work shoulder to shoulder with them––to do the dirty work with a smile on your face, to make the sausage, to war in the fox hole––they can, as Disturbed said, get down with the sickness. If leaders get “on the ground” in a one-off, photo-op kind of way, they will never be credible. And if they bestow leadership onto others in selective moments, rather than empowering others to lead, the result will be a general state of sit-back-and-watch. Most of us don’t need to be (and most of us won’t be) the finals MVP raising the championship trophy. Some are happy riding the bench or cheering from the stands. Our roles will vary, but what matters most is that feeling of being on the team, knowing that you’ve been entrusted with a job, and by the power invested in you, it will be done.


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