“…a most useless place. The Waiting Place……for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or the waiting around for a Yes or No or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting.”
– Dr. Seuss Oh The Places You’ll Go!
Have you ever avoided action in the name of prudence to find out later that you were too restrained? Might you have been reluctant to spend your own “personal capital” in service of an important purpose and missed opportunities in the process? The result of this behavior is living in “The Waiting Place” that Dr. Seuss describes, a terrible place for leaders to find themselves in.
We want to lead, yet we spend our lives waiting for a cause, for a bigger purpose, for a perfect “something” to show up. I notice this tendency in myself and in many top managers of organizations. The act of “exercising leadership” is automatically placed in the future tense, never now: “after this event”, “in the next quarter”, “when the time is right”, “after this session”…
These apparently valid reasons to wait show the power of the status quo in action. The status quo counters our aspirations, and pictures progress as unlikely to materialize. We start thinking that it’s not even worth trying. This way of operating masks itself as “wisdom” and itlooks like this: “I want to change this. I know this change will come when I will have X to make it happen” (Here you can fill in the blank with anything you want: more power, the promotion, so-and-so out fo the way, the perfect relationship, the MBA, great skills, …)
I’m not advocating against the virtues of patience, reflection, restraint, or waiting for an issue to be ripe before confronting it. Instead I decry the lost opportunities of waiting to access our own power due to external circumstances. Werner Erhardused to say:
“The entire universe comes out of the fact that you are, without you there wouldn’t be any your universe. What you call the universe is your universe. And there are a lot of your universes. The whole universe springs from that you are. You don’t need to do anything, say anything, prove anything. It is. You don’t have to work on it for it to be there. It comes from the fact that you are.”
In truth, the most fundamental experience you can have is that you are. There is no more fundamental experience than the experience of being yourself. All other experiences arise from that and we don’t have to do anything to be ourselves: we don’t have to make ourselves, our department or our team work. When we finally stop trying (or better said stop waiting until we can finally try at a more appropriate time), we discover this fundamental fact that we are. And that’s not waiting: that’s being.
I hope you are clear about what I mean when I say doing nothing: doing nothing means to be yourself fully right in this moment, it’s about being there for yourself and others, simply being. It may mean to showing up differently than you showed up yesterday, or how you showed up all your life, but nevertheless in the moment, as the unique human being that you are.
Doing nothing is the opposite of waiting: waiting is about tomorrow, doing nothing is about now. And while doing nothing seems the opposite of leadership, consider this: leadership development needs to be leadership unlearning first. Only when we drop the illusion of prudence, of waiting for better circumstances, and start experiencing ourselves do we lay the foundations that make bold actions possible.
When we stop waiting to become a better self, or a better student, or a better leader and simply access our own critical dimension of existence, instead of trying to do things differently, we show up differently. And in doing that we experience ourselves differently so that the change that we long for so much shows up in our life right now. Not tomorrow.
When that happens, waiting doesn’t makes sense anymore. So however we decide to show up, let’s stop waiting and start being. Now.
Adriano understands how to increase your returns on leadership. He works with professionals in world-class organizations that include Philip Morris, Microsoft, the World Bank, Johns Hopkins University, the US Marine Corps, the State Department and NASA. A skilled experiential educator with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of ParticipAction Consulting, Inc., a firm committed to help clients redefine change, collaboration and power in their organizations. He co-authored "Teachable Moments of Leadership" with Jill Hufnagel in 2016, on a learning methodology that gets results by going from PowerPoint to …powerful!