What time is it? We ask and are asked this question regularly because we are generally very busy people with many demands on our attention.
There is another way that we must consider this question. We must be aware of the appropriate action to take at the current moment. “What time is it?” often really means, “What is this time for?”
This is really the crucial question. So many of our struggles as leaders stem from misunderstanding what time it is in this purposeful sense. Life can get complicated and it can become difficult to assess priorities and purpose. I am going to help by breaking leadership down into 4 basic events. Then you can look at any given situation and evaluate what time it is for that situation. The four events are: Dreaming, Planning, Acting, and Rejuvenating.
Dreaming: Leaders dream. Some people refer to this as having a vision, inspiration, or goals. Whatever the word choice is the idea is the same. It boils down to a simple question, “What do you want?” Dreaming can pertain to a job or career, a relationship, a community, a specific meeting or event. What do you want the outcome to be? How do you want it to go? Get excited about it!
This is step one, so to speak, but you may find that you revisit it along the way. These events don’t always happen “in order.” Our dreams can, and should, change. If you realize that you no longer desire a dream; change it! Ask again, “What do I want?” Then move on from there.
It is very important to be specific with your dreams. An unclear dream is like a blurry map. It’s not very useful and you’ll never quite know where you are or where you are going. That sort of confusion can cause lots of problems but in particular it is a motivation killer. So dream big and dream clear.
Are you in a situation in which you realize that you don’t really know what you want? Maybe in a job that you’ve held for a while and just haven’t felt excited about in months? Or in a relationship that seems to be going nowhere and you’re not sure why? Do you find yourself dissatisfied at the end of the day? If so, it is time to step back and dream.
Planning: Leaders plan. This step is the first one to making a dream into a reality. Once you know what it is that you want, you need a plan for how to get there. You should be brutally honest here. As you plan you need to assess your strengths and weaknesses, your assets, identify potential obstacles, and set timelines. The more honest you are, the more likely your plans are to succeed.
Timelines in particular can be difficult to set accurately. Often something we expect to be brief takes more time than we thought, and sometimes we find that what was expected to be difficult is actually accomplished very quickly. Understand at the outset that this may be the case and be prepared for it. Taking longer than expected can be very discouraging. By mentally allowing for some flexibility at the outset you will make it easier to avoid this discouragement. Obviously some dreams have hard deadlines that aren’t flexible, in which case you must be flexible with your time as you head towards the deadline. You must be prepared to work longer than expected and manage your time carefully.
Flexibility is important in another way too. Sometimes the method that we plan on using doesn’t work out. You must be flexible in your methods and if one thing doesn’t work, be ready to try something else. And you should always make sure your plans are detailed enough that you always know what the next step is, but avoid making them so specific that you lose your ability to be flexible.
Do you know what you want but are stuck not knowing what to do? Have you done a lot of things and realize that they’re not really getting you substantially closer to your dream? Do you have a clear picture of how to get from A to B? If not, it is time to plan.
Acting: Leaders act. A great dream and a solid plan go nowhere without execution. Once you know your dream and have a plan you must act on it. Make it happen.
The challenge with acting is knowing when to act. On the one hand, acting without thinking and planning can be foolish. On the other hand, it is very possible to overanalyze and get stuck in planning. So when do we pull the trigger? Unfortunately there is no fast and easy answer to this question. You must do your best to make a plan but sometimes be willing to move forward and take action even amidst uncertainty.
Action is always a growing experience. Whether it works according to plan or not, when you act you have a direct experience from which you can learn. Ideally all of our actions would be the right call the first time and would work perfectly. Even if we act poorly we can gain great benefit by learning from the experience. You can take what you learn and apply it to all your future actions thereby becoming much more effective in the long run. The worst thing to do with a mistake is waste it by learning nothing.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to action is the fear of failure. Typically this comes from a false understanding of failure. Most people fear that failure says something profound and indelible about them. It can feel like a final judgment of sorts. But failure isn’t about us personally and it isn’t a result. Failure is only a result if we stop. When we continue on it becomes just a part of the process, a building block of success. Failure is actually helpful. How do you think of failure? Is it something to be avoided or is it an opportunity to learn and improve? Even when our fear is based on a legitimate possibility of loss we are rarely able to accurately assess the situation. Many times we envision a worst case scenario that is well beyond the confines of reality.
Have you been planning something for months? Have you been afraid to move forward? Does it seem like you always talk about your dreams and they never happen? If so, it is time to act.
Rejuvenating: Leaders rejuvenate. I chose this word, rejuvenate, very specifically. Lots of people talk about the importance of relaxing, recharging, resting, etc. All of that is true but those words miss the real point. Watching TV may be relaxing, but it doesn’t rejuvenate (at least not typically). So what is missing from these other words?
Think about what you do with your down time.
Now let’s look at the word “rejuvenate.” It literally means again(re)-young(juvenis) in the original Latin. Rejuvenate is to make young again. What adjectives jump to mind when you think about youth? Most of us think about words like “energetic,” “passionate,” “enthusiastic/excited,” “joyful,” etc.
Now back to your down time. Does it make you young again? Does it bring you back to energy and joy? For most of us, myself included, the answer is no. I often choose entertainment over rejuvenation. I watch TV, a movie, or read a book. These things are pleasant, but they don’t rejuvenate me. They aren’t bad things and I’m not suggesting that you avoid any form of entertainment. Just understand that not all “down time” is created equal.
Rejuvenation is essential. It brings us back to our best physically, emotionally, and spiritually. When you feel young, excited, alive, you attack life in a different and more effective way. You find more satisfaction in things and are more likely to find blessings around you. You will be happier. When we go for a period of time without doing things that make us feel this way, we need to rejuvenate.
A lack of rejuvenation can feel a lot like a lack of dreams, which brings us full circle. Dreams should inspire passion and energy, but the steps to make them a reality can be difficult. To get through obstacles and dry spells we must choose rejuvenating activities.
Do you feel stuck in the daily grind? Are you bored with life? Are you disengaged despite doing necessary work? Do you feel just as exhausted after a period of “down time” as you did before? If so, it is time to rejuvenate.
With these four options it is important to understand that you are never powerless to change your situation. You can always do something. Regardless of what lies behind or before you, you have the present moment to make a choice for the better.