Slow down, you move too fast

“You have to slow down to give people time to come with you”  John C Maxwell

When I went back to work at the start of 2017, I told the people working for me that I was going to “Be The Tortoise”. I’d been reflecting on my leadership style, and come the conclusion that in a busy, fast-paced workplace with a lot of change, my role needed to take things down a notch, give my people the time and space they needed to think things through and make sure they got enough rest. Those who knew me well were understandably skeptical: I’m naturally much more hare than tortoise.

Then I got diagnosed with cancer, and I was on reduced duties for the rest of the year while I had two surgeries and 6 months of chemotherapy. My little leadership experiment had to go on hold.

Cancer was a life lesson in slowing down, and I was a slow learner. At every step of the process I threw myself at it with as much vigour and enthusiasm as my increasingly weak body could muster, and tried to maintain a veneer of normality. Eventually I was forced to surrender: there was one 5 day period where I literally could not move. “OK, I get it: slow down” I thought, but when I had some coaching at the end of 2018, one of the first things the coach said was that I seemed to take the idea of life being a race literally!

Cartoon o a tortoise standing on two legs looking enthusiastic
Enthusiastic Tortoise

As a more junior employee, my energy and drive allowed me to get things done, but mostly on my own or with a very small team. As a leader, my first impulse was to cheer-lead my teams into being just like me. I soon realised that doesn’t work in all contexts: some work requires precision and close attention to detail, two things which generally get sacrificed in the need for speed. But I was still blind to a flaw.

It wasn’t until I sat on the sidelines while I had treatment that I observed that most things I wanted to get done got done, if I just gave people a bit more time and space. When I was racing ahead, full of ideas and excitement, I wasn’t able to notice that some people didn’t have the background information they needed, or couldn’t see my vision, or simply needed more time to process. In hindsight, I am sure I did some of my people a disservice, overlooking their capacity to contribute because they didn’t jump on board my runaway train right away.

This year SLOW is my word for the year. I’m practising the art of steady progress (look, its taken me three months to write about it!). I see it a as a natural progression from learning skills in mindfulness, and learning about the negative effects of constant stress. In my own work, I’m finding I get much more pleasure from the work. When I’m working with other people, I feel a much stronger and more genuine sense of connection. I do catch myself falling into old habits occasionally, but as time passes, my SLOW muscle is developing.

I’m also learning to manage energy rather than time, a tip I got from John C Maxwell’s book No Limits. Instead of trying to cram more and more into a finite amount of time, and sacrificing my well-being as a result, I’m learning to prioritise exercise and nutrition,  to understand what tasks require what energy, and to say NO (a tough gig for a people pleaser!)

It seems to me that instead of increasing our leisure time, as promised, technology is making us feel obliged to do more, go ever faster. We cram our brains with information to the point of overload on a daily basis, and they’re simply not built for that. For humans to perform at our best, we need to train for peaks and have time for rest and recovery. We can’t just keep increasing the speed on the treadmill and expect that we won’t fall off. The SLOW movement that has started in other areas of life needs to start influencing the workplace.



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