You may not be familiar with W H Davies poem Leisure. You will however recognise its opening lines – “What is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare”. The poem later begins some lines with “No time to see…”.

Looking back at these weeks of busyness – Zoom meetings, conversations, emails, planning and decisions. When have you taken time to stand and stare, to really see? Busyness does not necessarily equal productivity, effectiveness or value add. In the midst of where we find ourselves, the unknown, the concern, the what ifs, how are you taking time to look and see?

In these times, have you taken time to stare at yourself? Internally examine, self-scrutinise and ponder. Exploring thoughts, situations and people that have entered your world. Getting off the treadmill for 5 minutes or a few hours and looking. Momentarily pressing pause. Not doing this for the sake of it, but for understanding and learning and growing. We may mock ‘I haven’t got time to stop’, but can you afford not to? Often we only partake in this when things happen to us personally or professionally, which is often too late. Even then we only give it passing attention. There is more to being a leader than a job description. The time is ripe for stopping and standing.

You say you are a people person, a people leader, but when have you really stopped, looked, seen and reflected on your people? Who they are, what they bring, how do they feel? What they need? How does the team really work? How does your leadership fit in with the team? You may have listened to them but have you really heard them?

What is your place in your peer group or the organisation? How do you bring value to these? What’s important to you about your role? These valid questions rarely become conscious thought, yet all contribute to your ‘being’ in the organisation. Taking time to understand and see these translates to stronger leadership or coaching.

Reflection is powerful, transformational

We currently face situations where there’s no clear answer. There are emotional dimensions to many of our interactions. We may have some of the information we need but not all of it. Everything is quite strange. We mentally process searching for new knowledge or ways forward. Sometimes being driven by objectives and performance doesn’t work.

Kolb is often cited around his learning model. Here reflection is a crucial part of adult learning, but often doesn’t hold the same kudos by businesses as the action side of it, yet it is as integral. Reflection is an intellectual, emotional, relational and physiological pursuit to help us understand and learn.

Reflection develops self-awareness, a foundational trait of good leadership and coaching. A bedrock of emotional intelligence. Reflection underpins good leadership and coaching.

Reflection and ‘staring’ allows us to consider who we are (in work and play), our purpose, what’s important to us and why. It enables us to consider the environment which we live and work. The people within these. It creates opportunity to examine situations in multi dimensional ways; see all sides of the proverbial coin. It develops personal strength, deepens relationships, allows for new perspectives, and appreciate life and people differently.

Suitable not just for macro situations but also micro ones too. One to one relationships and conversations deserve and benefit from the same treatment. Indeed, focus here reaps wider and deeper macro benefits.

This making time and reflection enables us to make more informed, healthier decisions and healthier thinking. More based upon personal experience and personal processing. See the wood from the trees. Breathing.

Being conscious

I am not advocating leaders down tools to stare at their navels, though there is powerful value in deliberate time for reflection. What I am saying is that if you have moments which touch, impact or resonate with you they do so for a reason. If someone says something to you, or something happens don’t ignore it. If you think or feel something in the moment reflect to understand and embrace it. Creating opportunities to stand and stare… and see what happens. What floats to the surface for you? Moments given over to thought.

Applying this to yourself, family, colleagues and the team will bring about stronger understanding, communication and relatedness. Make you better leaders and coaches. Better people.

Talking to others

Talking to colleagues, friends or coaches encourages us to have space to explore and create moments of reflection. Sometimes no matter how we try, we get stuck in one plane. Talking, then reflecting makes thoughts more three dimensional. Bring out themes we might be blind to. Or see other elements, symptoms, causes, and emotions at play.

Additionally, conscious talking to others encourages us to explore avenues we might otherwise choose not to, ones we avoid or not appreciate. This then allows the subconscious part of the mind to process and reflect too. Conversations promote creativity.

Seeing the good

Doing all this also allows us to ‘take time to smell the roses‘. In the midst of challenge, uncertainty and unknowing, standing and really seeing allows us the opportunity to appreciate the good in who we are, what we do, as well, what we value. Without standing and reflecting we are often blind to all this, or too smothered in blankets of ‘work stuff’ and issues.

C.S. Lewis (my favourite author) in his book Pilgrim’s Regress wrote about ‘the Island in the West’. It represents something, a place, a person, a situation we always long for that we feel will bring us joy, peace or happiness, but never does and never will. Standing and reflecting brings us back to the here and now, and what we have. The good in what we have.

We owe it to ourselves, family, friends and colleagues to smell the roses and cut ourselves some slack. I heard a quote the other day which is attributed to both Churchill and Rahm Emanuel. It is reflective of our current Covid situation as well as our own when they change. Read the quote a few times and respond to it, don’t react.

Never let a good crisis go to waste‘.

These times will pass, but until they do, don’t miss the opportunity presented to step back, be quiet and listen to yourself, your leadership, your humanity.

As we are toward the end of mental health awareness week, it is opportune to encourage us all to take the time, stand and stare as well as smelling whatever roses surround us…

If you would like support to help stand and stare, get in touch…

Nick Howell is a coach works employees and leaders alike to bring about behavioural change to influence organisational performance. He develop leaders and coaches to bring their best to their their teams and businesses. Contact him today to see how he can bring change to your leadership and teams.