Leadership is a hard thing that requires a tremendous amount of confidence to face every day, while appreciating that we have a lot to learn and need to improve at the same time. It’s Jim Collins’ “paradoxical blend of humility and resolve” in action. But the fact is, time and repetition make us better at everything.
I recall with great clarity a conversation with my Dad — a middle school teacher — sitting in the driveway of my apartment when I was in my early 20s. He was the same age I am now, 52, and he was telling me that he had arrived at a point in his career where he knew what to expect. “Anything that seems to come up, even the most subtle of situations, I’ve seen it before, and I know what to do,” he said. At the time, I didn’t really know what to make of his point. “That’s really cool, Dad,” was my response. Over the years, I have come back to that conversation many times as I’ve witnessed changes in how I perceive even the most mundane aspects of my daily routine.
For example, I was sitting in my office recently looking at how many meetings I had that day. Then I started adding up how many meetings I have in a typical year. Finally, I calculated how many hours I have spent in meetings over the course of my career — well over 10,000. That is why I have lower back problems and work standing up now. That is also a lot of repetition and observation.
The cadence of a meeting, the subtle science of observing nonverbal cues, the art of perfect meeting preparation, knowing when to “hold ’em, when to fold ’em, when to walk away and when to run,” are all things we need to master. Professionals spend a lot of time in meetings, but seldom do we think about meetings as an art form and something we can get better and better at. But they are.
Young professionals, when they are in meetings with people with a lot more experience than they have, pay attention to them, something everyone should be doing. Pay attention to the group. Pay attention to what seems to work for people and what doesn’t. Observe nonverbal cues. Consider the temperature in the room and distractions down the hall.
Pay attention to the tension in your legs and the movement of your breaths in and out. Follow your tension and frustration and watch these things connect to your body movements and words. Notice the way informal side conversations naturally trail off as the meeting starts on its own a lot of the time. Notice who speaks when and the closing cadences of the masters. Pay attention.
Meetings are just one of many areas in your leadership journey where repetition can improve your performance in ways you simply can’t appreciate until it happens. If you remain faithful to the journey and pay attention, over time, you will see things that were once hidden to you. For all of its subtractions, experience is the great gift of time. ●
Daniel Flowers is President and CEO of Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank