A Strategic Leadership Paradox: Slow Down to Speed Up

slow-down-to-speed-upIt sounds paradoxical to say that in order to speed up, you must first slow down. We live in a culture where “Go go go,” and “Fail fast,” are norms. Where the goal is to build “high-efficiency workflows” and “cut corners.” Where you need to “cut to the chase” and “beat competitors to market” if you want to be heard and succeed. In our world, timelines are shorter, expectations are higher, and you better respond “ASAP.”

AND YET … moving too fast can cause errors, self-centeredness, misunderstandings, lack of innovation and strategic thinking, chaos, and so much more. You might be thinking, “It saves time when you move quickly!”

To which I respond, “Does it?”

Let me preface this article by saying I am a hyper-achiever, fast-mover by nature and love to get things done. It took me a long time to learn the lesson to slow down. I write this article from the lens of having learned many lessons about the cost of moving too quickly. The most paradoxical cost is that moving too quickly ends up to be a drain on time and energy in the long run by creating more problems. Let me explain: Here are some common problems – challenges I have experienced and seen first-hand – that come with moving too quickly.

Common Costs of Moving Too Quickly

Errors

We all make mistakes. However, when you are rushing through tasks, you are much more likely to make a mistake than if you are going at a steady pace. Also, fixing mistakes can be costly and time-consuming.

Misunderstandings & Communication Breakdowns

When you are rushed, you are less likely to take care in how you phrase your words, whether in an email or a conversation. This can easily lead to misunderstandings and confusion, and ultimately results in a great time drain in getting everyone back on the same page.

Lack of Strategic Thinking

When you are always rushing from A to B and your schedule is packed to the brim, there is no time for forward thinking and long-term strategy because you are always caught up in having to react to what is all around you.

 Self-Centeredness

When you are in a hurry, you are more likely to treat people as objects or obstacles in the way of reaching your goals, rather than … people. This has a devastating impact on relationships. Repairing relationships is much more time-consuming than maintaining healthy relationships.

Feelings of Stress, Anxiety, and Chaos

When rushed, everything seems equally important, everything is a priority, and everything must get done at the same time. Because it is not humanly possible to do everything at once, the feelings that follow are often stress, chaos, anxiety, and frustration. Think about it: Are you able to be more or less effective and productive when you are stressed and rushed?

Lack of Innovation

If you are always in a hurry, when will you find the space for new ideas and a fresh perspective?

Negative Team Dynamics

When groups or teams of people are in a hurry, imagine the implications. If everyone on your team was moving too quickly and thus making errors, causing misunderstandings, lacking strategic thinking, acting self-centered, and feeling stressed, what would the team culture be like? 

Slow vs. Fast: Which Team Wins?

In case you are not yet convinced as to which pace is more effective, let’s look to some research. A Harvard Business Review study of 343 companies found that businesses that chose to “go, go, go” without slowing down enough to be strategic about their business decisions ended up with lower sales and operating profits than the compared companies, which “paused at key moments to make sure they were on the right track.”

The result of the study was that the companies and firms that slowed down actually DID speed up – they averaged 40 percent higher sales and 52 percent higher operating profits over three years than the companies that continued at a rapid pace.

 Why Are You in Such a Hurry?

If your tendency is to speed up when you have too much to do …  and you are having a hard time considering the opposite approach, ask yourself a few important questions:

  • When you slow down and are able to focus, how is your work different than when you are moving quickly or multi-tasking?
  • What is the pace of your organization, your team, and your individual natural pace, and how are they similar or different?
  • What generally happens when you multi-task, and how are you perceived when you move quickly through your workday?
  • What is the pace in which you actually want to work and feel most productive and energized?

Our culture tells us to move faster, do more, and speed up … this is how our society moves. How is moving quickly and speeding up working for YOU?

6 Strategies: Slow Down to Speed Up

If you want to be more strategic, more focused on long-term success, a better communicator, and a stronger decision-maker, team member, and leader, you are going to have to learn the lesson of slowing down to speed up.

1. Focus on Long-Term Vision Over Short-Term Wins

Quick wins are seductive, but they aren’t always the right place to focus. Moving slower and more deliberately means you are focused on long-term vision, goals, and outcome. You may have to sacrifice something in the near-term to arrive at your long-term goal, but it is almost always worth it.

Slow-Down-to-Speed-Up Strategy: Post your long-term vision on your wall or as your desktop backdrop so it is front-and-center in your view. The next time you are being wooed by a short-term win at the expense of a long-term goal, take a glance and remind yourself what your long-term vision and priorities are, and then redirect your efforts accordingly.

2. Slow Down Your Decision-making

When you slow down when faced with a big decision, you are able to consider other options that may not have been noticed if you were rushing through a decision. Creative problem solving requires patience, curiosity, space, collaboration, and open-ended discussions. To make a truly strategic decision, you have to take the time to first gather data and consider various points of view.

Notice that slowing down your decisions does not mean avoiding them or dragging them out, it means focusing on a more deliberate and strategic end goal.

Slow-Down-to-Speed-Up Strategy: Create a process that requires you to pause at key moments in the decision-making process, review data, and include other perspectives before finalizing an important decision. Invite others to hold you accountable for following the process.

3. Prioritize Communication and Relationships

Relationships are the most important currency in your organization as a leader. It is through relationships that you are able to get things done, so taking your time to be with others supports your productivity.

Slowing down affords you the ability to actively listen, be patient, pay attention to your words, and use conversations to gain a deeper dialogue and understanding of challenges in your organization. If you are rushed, you don’t have this capacity and others will notice. When you slow down, you are able to facilitate meaningful connections and relationships. You have conversations that lead to productive action, rather than the confusion that is fostered when in a rush. Make a commitment to deepen the relationships you have and prioritize people by slowing down when you are with them.

Slow-Down-to-Speed-Up Strategy: Pay attention to your interactions with others, and notice when your foot is on the gas pedal during conversations. Pause to notice: Is your mind in the conversation you are in, or is it somewhere else? Are you listening really, or are you dominating the conversation with your agenda? Take a deep breath and be present in your interaction. A few minutes of your full attention will most often yield superior results than rushing through a conversation and then back pedaling to clear up misunderstandings and perceptions later.

4. Dedicate Space for Innovation

Creative and innovative thoughts and ideas often come from the space between moments, not during tasks or business.

Slow-Down-to-Speed-Up Strategy: Block off some time on your calendar for creative mind wandering, strategic thinking, and collaborating with others on new ideas.

5. Be Discerning in Your Commitments

The less you have to do, the more time you will have to slow down and be present for the things that matter, and the faster rate you will be able to tackle the prioritized items on your list when the other “noise” is not there to distract you.

Slow-Down-to-Speed-Up Strategy: This one is simple (although not easy) … what can you say “no” to?

Read More: 6-Step Plan to Design a Balanced Calendar

Read More: Why You Should Add the Word “NO” to Your Vocabulary

6. Plan for the Unplanned

Transitions are the time we tend to rush the most. When we rush through transitions in our day, we arrive at our next engagement in a frenzied state.

Something unplanned will come up – you can plan on it. Whether it is traffic, a line, or a run-in on the way to your next meeting. Most people do not leave space for transitioning from one thing to the next, and end up in a cycle of hurry.

Slow-Down-to-Speed-Up Strategy: Create buffers in your calendar and schedule time to transition. This means you may have to plan 25-minute meetings, instead of 30-minute meetings, put on your calendar when you have to leave for an appointment that is 15 minutes away. This way — if you hit a roadblock — it won’t faze you. And if you get there early? Take a few deep breaths.

Bottom Line

Get out of the cycle of rushing through your days, amplifying stress, generating mistakes, and putting a strain on your relationships.

If you learn to slow down, your long-term goals will thank you. You will move faster toward your long-term goals and priorities. You will build more meaningful connections and deepen your relationships. You will enjoy your work more. You will regret less. You will make fewer mistakes. You will communicate more clearly and make better decisions. Most importantly, as a leader, you will create a stronger and more productive and energizing team culture.

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Melissa Eisler

Melissa Eisler, MA, PCC, is an ICF certified executive coach. She partners with leaders to develop their systems thinking, resilience, strategic communication skills, and executive presence in order to reach individual, team, and organizational goals. She blends more than 15 years of experience in leadership positions in the corporate world, with her master’s degree in organizational leadership and extensive background in mindfulness to help her clients master their leadership skills and steer their teams through challenges and change. Learn more about Melissa here.

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As an ICF Certified Executive Coach, Melissa partners with leaders to develop their executive presence, strategic and systems thinking, resilience, communication skills, and influence in order to reach their goals. Melissa is passionate about supporting leaders and teams on their growth journeys toward greater impact, more collaborative teams, and stronger results.