Several years ago I was in a season of my leadership journey where I was consumed with addressing and solving day-to-day operational issues. Each day seemed to bring another problem to solve, a challenge to work through, or a fire to fight. The days became weeks and the weeks became months. My stress level kept rising, I kept working harder, and yet it seemed like I was running in place. After telling my sob story to my manager she made a simple, yet profound observation that stopped me in my tracks. She said, “It sounds like you’re spending all of your time working in the business and not on the business.”
What she was encouraging me to do was to take a helicopter ride. Speaking metaphorically, I was spending all of my time driving furiously up and down the highways and byways of our business trying to get stuff done, but it caused me to spend a lot of time in traffic jams and the progress was slow. What I needed to do was periodically rise above the daily chaos and take a helicopter ride to gain a different perspective of our work.
Taking time to work on the business…taking a helicopter ride…has several key benefits that will accelerate your productivity and passion for your job.
- It provides perspective — A few years ago I was painting several rooms in our house and I noticed a trend. The quality of workmanship of the trim at the top of the walls was less than stellar, but I hadn’t noticed it before because I rarely look up. That tends to happen when you live life at eye level. Spending all of your time working in the business can lead to tunnel vision and you run the risk of losing sight of the end goal. We can easily get distracted with fire fighting and stop paying attention to higher level priorities and metrics that drive the success of our organization. An occasional helicopter ride snaps you out of the day-to-day routine and forces you to view your business at a macro-level.
- It relieves stress — Each of us has a different level for stress tolerance but we all have one thing in common—we will eventually crash and burn when our tank reaches empty. The daily grind of work can be stressful and it takes its toll. Studies have shown that workplace stress is far and away the number one stressor we face in life. It’s imperative for your health to find productive ways to relieve stress and taking the metaphorical helicopter ride is an excellent way to accomplish that goal. Regardless of how you do it – devoting an hour a week to strategic planning, one day a month, or having a periodic retreat with your leadership team – the important thing is you do it. Helicopter rides allow you to clear your mind of pressing priorities and helps you re-calibrate your approach to work.
- It sparks creativity and problem solving — Many of my best ideas come to me when I’m away from the office. Whether I’m in the shower or cycling in the back country, the ideas flow when I’m relaxed and letting my mind wander. Helicopter rides afford you the opportunity to think in a different way, unencumbered by the routines and demands of the office. Constantly working in the business keeps your mind focused on the immediate and urgent problems, whereas working on the business allows you to creatively brainstorm new approaches to your challenges.
- It nourishes your soul — Leaders set the tempo for their teams. If you want a team that is engaged, energized, and committed to their work, then you need to model that behavior. That means you’re constantly pouring yourself out for others. If you aren’t replenishing your own energy you won’t have any left to give others. Sometimes helicopter rides mean getting away from work entirely by taking a vacation. Work can wear us down to the point where we develop an attitude of cynicism or a defeatist mentality. If you notice yourself going down that road then it’s a clear warning sign your soul needs some nourishment.
As leaders we are often motivated to always be on the go…get things done…make stuff happen. There’s a time and place for all that activity, but there is also a time and place for rising above the day-to-day and taking a helicopter ride to look at your business, and your leadership practices, in a new and fresh way.
Feel free to leave a comment about your own strategies for taking helicopter rides.