What do you do when you don’t know what to do?
The answer is a little different for all of us, but when we don’t know what to do most forward-thinking leaders just do something. Start something. Work on something. Read something. Get busy doing something. It seems our culture is completing wrapped up in busyness, and I believe much of that stems from a lack of clarity.
Activity is not the some as productivity. We need to figure out what the right things are. That is effectiveness; discerning and doing the right things. That is completely different from doing all the things. The efficiency of doing all the things without focusing on effectiveness to do the right things will only lead to overwhelm, burnout and futility.
I heard a quote many years ago that haunts me; Unsure of our direction we double our speed. While we all get paralysis from time to time many of us leaders have the bad habit of going faster when we don’t know where we’re doing. When we do this we are leading from insecurity. Eugene Peterson used to say, “A busy pastor is a lazy pastor”. I think that’s true for all of us. Much of our busyness is actually a fruit of our laziness to discern the right things and say no to everything else.
At least once a day I say this crucial phrase to an overwhelmed coaching client; clarity UP, overwhelm DOWN. Clarity and overwhelm have an inverse relationship. Imagine two sandbags stretched over a pulley. When clarity goes up overwhelm naturally goes down. The simple act of finding clarity has the ability to clear the fog of overwhelm. Overwhelm cripples our ability to make healthy decisions for us, our families, our teams and our organizations. Leave it too long and it festers into burnout, quitting or letting your life bring your along for the ride. Clarity is a game changer.
What clarity is NOT
Clarity is not certainty.
Clarity is not a roadmap.
Clarity is not inspiration.
If you find yourself overwhelmed or heading there you need to find clarity. So, how do we actually clarify?
Name emotions: I am feeling ______ because ________
Name losses and wins: I need to grieve…. I need to celebrate….
Name tensions: I’m feeling pulled between _______ and _______
Determine your direction (not your destination)
Discern steps in the right direction and start taking them.
Here’s an example of this. A coaching client recently told me he wanted to take his wife on a getaway this year, but there was too much potential change that he couldn’t plan. I challenged him to take a few small steps toward this. He could start saving money in an account, have initial conversations with his wife about a few potential places and check with friends and family to see if they would be willing to watch their kids. These are all taking steps in the right direction.
Ask yourself, “What steps could take me in the direction I want to go?”. Then take them.
Get input from someone objective
We’re emotional about our lives. This means we care about the decisions, the people, the money, the work, the time, all of it. But this deep care can blind us. At some point we need to get outside of our head and seek input from someone more objective (and less emotional) about our life than we are. Find a wise friend, a mentor or a coach. I know I’m biased, but I cannot recommend a leadership coach enough. The point of good coaching is to help you clarify SO you can name things and take next steps. It’s not about some stranger or expert giving you advice.
Resource to consult
Big picture questions (in the Right Side up Journal every Thursday)
- Where are you thriving? Celebrate these
- Where are you struggling? Pray through these
- What feels confusing? Clarify these things
- What’s missing? Clarify gaps and longings
- What are your next steps? Create a plan to take these
Questions to answer
- Which area of your life or leadership is most overwhelming?
- What emotions, losses, wins and tensions can you name?
- What next steps can you take in the direction of your goal?
Director of Culture and Coaching
Alan is a mountain guide for the leadership journey. He loves outdoor adventures, but the greatest adventure of his being a father and husband. Alan is crazy about helping hungry leaders conquer overwhelm and navigate with courage. He serves leaders and organizations around the country through coaching, speaking, consulting, designing experiences, hosting mastermind groups, writing his own books and ghostwriting for others. He co-hosts Right Side up Leadership Podcast and regularly writes for Outreach and Field Notes .