Slow Down, Goldfish

It’s pretty normal for me to have several books going at once. I don’t know if it’s because I like a change in scenery now and then, or because I have the mind of a goldfish.

Anyway, one of my favorites lately is Minute Motivators for Leaders. Every chapter has a nifty quote about leadership, followed by a one-page ‘chapter’ that develops the idea a little further. It’s great because I can get a big thought to ponder for the day, and it only takes a minute. If I happen to get distracted by a squirrel while reading, I was probably done reading anyway. The pages are tiny, too.

This morning, I flipped randomly to page 60 and discovered:

Leaders are Listeners

Well, Duh. We all know this. I’ve read that a bazillion times, everywhere. But real enlightenment comes when you can relate what you’re reading to something recent, real or tangible in your own life. The quote is this: “The first step to wisdom is silence; the second is listening.” (Carl Summer)

The goldfish in my head instantly made the connection to a piece of advice a friend gave me recently: “John,” he said, “You need to slow down. You always seem like you’re in a hurry.”

Wow. It amazes me how the simplest things can be the most profound. To my surprise, that one simple observation just wouldn’t leave me alone. “He’s right,” I thought. “I’ve probably been missing a lot.”

In the days after our conversation, the truth of his words began to ring in my ears like the sound of church bells in a small town. I really had been missing a lot. It made me think of passengers on a high-speed commuter train, trying to take in the rushing blur of scenery. You can see things in the distance, but everything close to you is lost in the rush.

Anti-Momentum, or Slow-mentum?

I realized that for much of my life, I’d been riding on that train, rushing from place to place, in a hurry, gotta-go, gotta-get-it-done, gotta make the money, no time to waste, sorry – can’t talk now…

Years ago, I had boarded that high-speed train under several false notions:

  • In order to be effective and get things done, you must move at light-speed.
  • Slow decision-making is a waste of precious time.
  • Slow growth is a waste of precious time.
  • Momentum can only happen at high speed.
  • I’ll get it done faster and better if I do it myself. All of it. Everything.

Squirrels and Goldfish

Garbage. Or, as Grandma used to say: Horse Feathers. Sure, there’s a little truth in those statements, but that doesn’t mean there’s no truth in the alternatives. The only thing that kind of thinking got me was what I call ‘Goldfish Goggles’. That’s when you have so much going on that you actually become inefficient at everything. You’re moving so fast and there’s so much coming at you that you can’t deal with all of it, so you lose your train of thought about every three seconds.

Squirrels distracting you everywhere, and no time for the important stuff.

Back to the book, and the lesson. It was talking about leadership and listening. The author said that good leaders take people seriously. They listen carefully to the words, inflection and emotions expressed by others. They listen to complaints and problems. They listen to ideas – whether they act upon them or not, because opportunity could come from them.

I agree. And I think it goes beyond leadership and applies to life in general. It’s hard to listen carefully when you’re on the fast train. You miss too much, and everything close to you can get lost in the rush.

For me, the most important statement in that bite-sized snack of wisdom is “Good leaders take people seriously.” I say that good people – leaders or not – take people seriously. When it’s all said and done, how we treated people is what people remember about us.

My friend exemplified this in his simple words of advice to me. He couldn’t have done that if he hadn’t taken the time to listen carefully. He showed a genuine concern for me, and found just the right words to get into the mind of this goldfish and put on the brakes. As it happens, my friend  actually is a great leader – of many people. But I don’t want his head to get all big and swelly, so I’ll end with this:

Thanks, David. You’re a good friend and a great leader.

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