The Essential Rhythm of Life and Leadership
I love the fresh, unburdened way that children can see things. Driving in the car the other day, my 13 year old daughter said to me, “Mom, have you ever noticed how there are times when nothing seems to be going well, but then not that long later, everything just seems to work?”
We launched into a long conversation about growth and cycles and how the moments when we are growing often are the most uncomfortable. I told her about a little piece of parenting wisdom my sister had shared with me when I had my first child, her oldest sister. “Be prepared. As soon as you think you’ve got them figured out, they change.”
This piece of advice helped me see a pattern that provided significant peace of mind through sleepless nights with fussy babies, trying moments with frustrated children, and difficult discussions with moody teenagers. Children’s most difficult periods are often followed by amazing demonstrations of growth. Learning to roll over, to walk, tie your shoes, make new friends, master an athletic skill, and understand algebra – all are predictably prefaced by a period of frustration and crankiness. As a parent, recognizing this pattern provided the space to embrace the difficult moments, allow them to take their course and then enjoy the unfolding of a new skill or level of understanding.
As individuals, recognition and acceptance of this pattern within us is critical. It is this awareness that allows us to be patient, curious and even appreciative of those times when we just don’t seem to be at our best –when nothing seems to be going well. Accepting and sitting with the discomfort of these times allows us to explore the insights they offer, allowing transformation and growth to occur.
It is this awareness that allows us to be patient, curious and even appreciative of those times when we just don’t seem to be at our best
As tends to happen, this conversation left me thinking about the role that this rhythm plays in all aspects of life. All around us we see examples of a period of darkness, decay or death prefacing the birth of something new – whether in the life cycle of a plant, human cell replacement, or product innovation. It seems to be a fundamental law of nature and is taught by every major religious tradition.
Yet, in so many ways our culture has taught us to fight this natural cycle. On the personal level we have fallen for the idea that we should always feel good, driving us to deny, avoid and numb any sense of discomfort. Our need for instant gratification deprives us of the opportunity for growth and transformation.
In the business world this phenomena can be evidenced in the market demand for continuous growth. How does this focus affect our ability to innovate? Any resource on innovation will tell you that failure is fundamental to the process. Can our businesses tolerate the failures necessary to successfully innovate? Is failure embraced to the level that the best talent will take on high-risk projects? Are businesses willing to accept the cannibalization of their core revenue stream from a new innovation? Or, is our drive to avoid any impact on short-term profits undermining our ability to innovate and ultimately undermining the future of our businesses?
Any resource on innovation will tell you that failure is fundamental to the process.
At the organizational or team level, our fixation on quick results may limit the quality of our output. Do we have the patience and resolve to soak in uncertainty and allow different perspectives to bounce, collide and ultimately combine to form truly innovative results? Or do we grab at the first reasonably plausible approach that surfaces and run with it?
As leaders we must encourage and facilitate diversity of perspective and embrace holding creative tension. It is only in this uncomfortable dissonance that the connections can be formed that will allow truly transformative solutions.
I am grateful for my daughter’s ability to see and accept this natural rhythm of life. For in the end, the ability to see that difficult times are normal, temporary, and necessary to allow periods of growth, is fundamental to fully embracing life. For teenagers and business leaders alike.
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