“In order for a business unit, function or organization to obtain heretofore unrealized opportunities it is often necessary to have executives who work in the white space and find these opportunities”
Peter G. Spanberger, Ph.D
Don’t Do Anything. Sounds bad. After recently hearing from a senior military leader and observing organizational challenges around me, I believe that a senior leader who doesn’t “do” anything may be the best thing for an organization. “Do”ing too much can have a negative effect on your time, perspective, and messaging.
I was fortunate to be at meeting of senior military leaders where Vice Admiral “Ted” Carter was a guest speaker. Vice Admiral Carter is an accomplished leader and has had a varied and distinguished career. His current position is as Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy. He shared many leadership lessons. During one of his stories, he shared that when people ask him what he does, he says, “I don’t actually ‘Do’ anything.” This struck me as a powerful statement. As I listened to the remainder of his talk, I was able to gather that he sees his role as a steward of culture, messenger of values, and a manager of transitions. I believe that the U.S. Naval Academy (students, faculty, alumni, board of directors, and future students) benefit from having a senior leader who is focused on the strategic, political, and positive advocacy of the Academy.
Like this article? Try reading “Generalship: Top 10 Traits Needed by Every General Officer“
I am sure most of us can quickly identify organizations or parts of organizations that are missing this piece. Now, you might say, how can a small to medium organization operate like that with a constrained budget and limited resources? I say that it needs to be the priority of the organization to carve out the resources to provide time for someone to “do” less and strategically “see” more. Without this leadership component, the organization will become stagnant. Or worse, develop a toxic culture and lose relevancy.
As I reflect on my experiences in different organizations, my most positive experiences occur when I have a clear picture of my role in the larger positive mission of the organization. This only occurs where there is a senior leader who takes the time and has the ability to message the mission, vision, values, and goals of the organization in a frequent, consistent, manner. In order for this to be effective, the leader needs “white space”. “White space” meaning time in their calendar and day to think, reflect, communicate, and be visible. If this leader is tasked, or takes on, too much of the day-to- day activities, they very often lose sight of the big picture, become overwhelmed with daily challenges, and lose the ability to message effectively.
Like this article? Try reading “Leading Leaders: How to be Successful!“
During the same conference, we participated in the Gallup Strength Finder survey. I found another connection to this idea while reading the summary of the Strategic Thinking theme. It states, “Your greatest contribution to a group may be to discover the best path to success. Because you can do this quickly, it may look as if you are ‘winging it’, but explaining yourself along the way will help others understand what you see.” I was drawn to the “winging it” phrase. I think that when we have superiors or peers who are positioned to “do” less and “see” more, we brand them as non-productive or dreamers. Providing the environment, opportunity, and support for this activity is critical to developing strategic solutions. These strategic solutions do not come about when someone is overwhelmed with “do”ing everything. It requires “white space” to get out and “see” what is going on, consider strategic solutions, to communicate with members of your organization, and to message your vision.
Does your organization or team need new ideas? Is everyone too busy “do”ing the work to “see” new ideas? The solution may be to provide “white space” to yourself, or someone in the organization who is a strategic thinker, to “see” the best path to success.