They have happened to me at the best of times. I am busy doing my life and the repetitive nature of some of the actions of my life slowly grips me in its clasp and I find myself unengaged. The same old work, followed by the same old repetitions of kids and dinner and TV and sleep. Nothing to look forward to, nothing to be excited about and nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, when something out of the ordinary does occur, it is usually not what I like or planned and so it just irritates me.
I feel stuck. Like a victim to the circumstances of my life, somewhat powerless to change the outcome I check out, while doing the repetitions – hoping to find and intellectual escape in my mind.
Rut’s are cursed with sameness. The same repeated actions, the same feelings, the usual events on the same days of the week and the same uninspiring outcomes. Sameness coats a rut like a slippery lubricant, preventing anyone from climbing out and perpetuating the sameness. It is mind-numbing to the soul and devastating to passion.
The irony of a routine is that to the untrained eye – it can look just like a rut. Very similar actions, with very similar time intervals and repetitions. The huge qualifying difference though, is engagement. In a routine my heart and passion is actively engaged. Perhaps not even on the task at hand, but engaged in some aspect of my life, none-the-less.
I like routines, because they allow me to be productive with my action (without missing an essential step) while my mind is elsewhere planning or dreaming on a new project or problem. The safety of a routine is that I have it down pat so well, that I can afford to let my mind wander onto other more enjoyable or stimulating things.
If I let my mind wander in the middle of an activity, without the power of an established routine, I could easily leave out a step, forget something or make a mess. But, with the safety of a routine in place I can allow the action to take place, knowing that while my mind is on others things, I can be productive.
This freedom to mentally engage in other things while executing, keeps my heart/passions engaged and my actions effectively productive.
So what about Leadership?
Any time a leader is in a rut, it is a dangerous thing for themselves and the people they lead because their heart or passion is missing, so ingenuity and creativity often suffer. Low engagement can also mean attitudes are poor and leading to short tempered conversations and low patience. Leading from this place is tough, because no-one wants to follow an uninspired grouch – regardless of how much authority they have. If you find yourself in a rut, it is a sharp marker that you have lost your engagement and all Leaders need engagement to be believable.
If you find yourself in a spot like that, the key is not to change the repetitions of your life (although sometimes that does help) but to focus on getting your engagement back. Do what you have to to re-ignite the passion in your soul and the fire in your eyes. I strongly endorse any action that doesn’t hurt people and which lines up with WHO you are, i.e your identity. For example, I am a Learner by nature. It energizes me to learn about new things that are in areas of interest for me. Going to a conference about the things I am interested in, always inspires me and helps to get some fire back.
On the other hand, Leaders should make shameless use of the power of routines to facilitate productivity. Routines allow action to occur and engagement to be maintained. They ensure accuracy in the action and yet make place for other engagements. BUT. Be careful not to mandate a particular path of action as you encourage routines. I understand that the specified path of action gives you some sense of confidence that the outcome will be achieved, but by doing so you could eliminate any sense of autonomy your employees have in that routine and it will quickly become a rut.
Both ruts and routines can be helpful in Leadership and if you are not sure which one you are in, just ask your co-workers.
Two questions then:
- Are you in a rut or a routine?
- What action energizes you and can restore some engagement in your life?