Unlocking the Heart and Soul of Remarkable Leadership, Keith Merron
Remarkable Leadership

Archive for February, 2013

Leadership and White Space

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

In his April 16, leading blog, Michael Mckinney, says that leadership needs white space.  He writes:

In the visual arts, white space is that area that is left blank or perhaps more accurately, open. It should not be thought of as unused space because it is actually an important part of the design itself. It is an “active” void. It adds to or enhances what the artist is trying to communicate. It clears away the clutter and allows the message to be heard. As leaders, we need to be secure enough to create white space in our leadership; to create not emptiness, but an active void. A place where those we lead can jump in and participate. It’s about making room for others to express themselves. Too often, leaders feel the need to be omnipresent; directing everything that happens. This stifles those they lead and stunts their growth.

His well crafted thought inspired me to add to his notion; namely, that leaders need time to think as well.

So many leaders, and people in general, believe they are effective to the extent that their calendar is filled with meetings and activity. There is no white space.  Quite the opposite, they are overloaded with stuff to do. As a result, they have not time to think. What might a leader want to think about in that white space?  Here are just a few examples to consider:

  1. Am I being the leader I want to be?
  2. Are we strategically well positioned?
  3. What are we missing?
  4. Is our culture vibrant and alive?
  5. Am I fulfilled?
  6. Are others fulfilled?
  7. What is the next wave of our work, the next new thing?

In the hustle and bustle of life, rarely do leaders allow room for such questions.  So loaded by the moment-by-moment activity, they become problem solvers, caught in the immediacy and urgency of what is in front of them.  They are tactical at best, not because they want to be, but because the inertia of the congested system they have set up requires them to be.

One leader I know is constantly rushing from meeting to meeting, with no room to spare. She misses deliverables and she is double and sometimes triple-booked.

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Given there are inevitable curveballs in life, she responds (or should I say reacts) to the curveballs, causing these words to tumble out of her mouth constantly.  “I’m sorry I’m late. I had to deal with X. It could not be helped. It was crucial.”

Her excuse is legitimate or so she thinks, and she tries to convince others. She did have to respond, in the moment. But she sets herself up to have no

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room for the inevitable surprise. It is like heading to an important meeting in a car during rush hour hoping that the traffic will be the same that it usually is. Well, in rush hour it is rarely consistent. It is predictably unpredictable. And there will be accidents. If you don’t account for those in your plans, you will be predictably unreliable to your meeting. There is no white space in her life, and as a result, she is not trusted because she misses deadlines constantly (promising more than she can deliver and not taking into account the inevitable unpredictable moment) and she has a ready excuse. What she doesn’t see is that she has created a life with no white space—no room to ask the bigger and often more important questions.  She and others like her are not leading. Nor are they following. They are simply surviving.

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