Best selling author Warren Bennis provided some excellent reminders on leadership in his writings. A key principle he advanced is "What we need to know gets lost in what we are told we should know.”
I take this to mean that we often instinctively know what to do in challenging circumstances to do our best work and to be our best at work. Yet, we don't trust our inner wisdom and get caught up in the rules and direction of how we should be responding. Listening to the distraction of the outer world instead of our inner wisdom allows self-doubt; self-critique hampers performance and neutralizes results.
Questioning ourselves, always following the rules with no variance or out-of-the-box thinking, and asking for permission will eventually allow progress. What, however, if the rules don't entirely pertain to the situation? Asking for permission slows down creative activity, interrupts momentum, and, often, leaves missed opportunity as the by-product.
The negativity generated by criticising ourselves and others shortens our vision and reduces the size of our thinking. Trusting ourselves and others creates a fluid, responsive adaptability that is more present and aware of the moment. When we are working at our best, it feels like play although we are not technically playing. Concerns and doubt about knowing the next step and what others think are erased as action takes over insecurity. Time flies as we are absorbed in progress and action rather than being overly caught up in doing it the way it’s expected to be done.
Effort seems easy in this state of what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls, Flow. In this state of flow people organically respond in work situations rather than falsely manufacturing responses. We are free to participate to our fullest and adapt to our environment, uncluttered by instructions and rules.
Stagnant rules in the workplace, usually in place to control environments and outcomes, can be overbearing. They can create negative meanings, attaching emotion to work activity and hampering results. Instead, noticing what is happening without judgement allows us to stay adaptable to the environment rather than continually measuring ourselves and others by the regulation.
All of this adds up to a more focused, present-in-the-moment awareness that responds dispassionately to change rather than reacting from a historic perspective. This verges on the belief that success is not in the achievement of a goal but in lessons learned while striving toward it.
According to Bennis, becoming a leader involves continually reinventing yourself, tolerating uncertainty and being true to yourself. Playing at your best is a powerful step in that direction.
Because rules are a common part of most work environments, playing at your best means:
- Being open, playful, curious and aware of the moment
- Respecting rules as guidelines not mandates
- Valuing engagement over judgement