A few years ago, I met a colleague in Paris for dinner before a meeting the next day with our international partners. We had an aggressive agenda planned for the meeting, and I was anxious to review my notes and refine my engagement strategy. We sat outside at the quintessential French restaurant, the almost crowded tables spilling into a narrow cobblestone street as the evening lights were flickering on. Glancing at my watch and seeing the hour fast approaching 8 pm, I mentally calculated that I could be back at the hotel by 9:30 or so, could review and prep until 11, and still get plenty of sleep and be mentally focused for the morning meeting.
Thirty minutes later, we were enjoying a glass of wine, but my stress level was beginning to rise as the minutes ticked by with no sign of even ordering an entrée on the horizon. Fast forward to almost 10 when the food arrived; I was far too aggravated about the late hour to enjoy what was very likely a phenomenal meal. An hour later, as we were finally leaving, my frustration visible, I asked my colleague, “Why does it take so long to have dinner in Paris?” He laughed and told me that I was missing the point. “Parisians know how to live well,” he said. The blank look I responded with indicated that I was indeed missing the point. “It’s about living in the moment,” he said, “It’s being mindful of the event you are experiencing, being appreciative of the details, enjoying the interaction, and doing it very well.”
It’s When—Not How
As leaders who desire to be more effective, we understand the need to improve our performance. What many of us struggle with is how to do just that. Some leaders voraciously consume every new book on business leadership and amass quite the library. Others deep dive TED Talks late into the evening hours to gain new perspectives. Many leaders seek out coaches to help them uncover blind spots. While these are all excellent professional routines to turn into habits, we need to focus less on how to be a better leader and more on when to be a better leader.
Leadership is a Social Process
Leadership is not something you can put on the calendar. “Yeah, 9 am on Monday. Let’s do leadership for thirty minutes and then head to the budget meeting….” Instead, leadership happens within the interactions and exchanges among people with shared work. Think of it as a social process that enables individuals to work together to achieve results that they could never achieve working as individuals. Leadership happens when you pass a colleague in the hallway and ask them how a project is going. It happens when you provide feedback to a direct report on their performance. It happens when an unexpected problem walks into your office at 4:59 pm on a Friday.
Live Lead in the Moment
Much like Parisians know how to live well, we can learn to lead well by savoring these moments. Be mindful of the interactions where leadership happens, appreciate the details, enjoy the exchange, and lead in the moment. Leadership is not standing in front of the organization during the annual update. Leadership is the culmination of the thousands of micro-interactions you have with people over time.
Challenge: Instead of passing that person in the hallway, slow the moment down. Ask them about their day and what they are working on. Really listen. Be curious. Savor the moment and be grateful for your role as a leader.