On October 25, 1999, a small Learjet made its way down Orlando’s runway to Dallas. Somewhere above Gainesville, the plane should have made a left turn and headed toward Texas. But it deviated off course. Air traffic control repeatedly made attempts to contact the pilots, but they were met with deafening silence. Fighter planes were dispatched to make visual contact. Two F-16s eventually were able to pull within fifty feet of the jet. The F-16 pilots reported that they could not see inside the plane because its windows were iced over. The Learjet flew on autopilot for another 1,400 miles (over four hours!) and finally crashed into a grassy field in Mina, South Dakota. All passengers were killed, the most famous being professional golfer Payne Stewart. It was a strange and terrible event.
Suppose you had been standing on the ground for a moment as the plane flew overhead in the clear autumn sky. What would you have seen that day? From your vantage point, the plane is traveling fast and straight and is on course. Though the reality is that something is dangerously wrong on the inside, and the plane is headed for trouble. Many leaders fly through life at breakneck speed. They seem to be great, cruising on autopilot. It looks like all is well from a distance, but as our tragic story reveals, looks can be deceiving.
In his work with clients, psychologist Henry Cloud observed nine practices that successful people generally apply to life. One is a principle that he refers to as “Play the Movie.” In a movie, a plot is unfolding and developing. The final scene is being formed and defined by earlier ones. Playing the movie helps us connect actions with consequences. Nothing we do is singular or without meaning. Rather, any one thing we do is taking us in a particular direction. What we do today has been shaped by what we did yesterday. Who we become tomorrow will be informed by what we do today. The choices we make regarding the time we spend, the projects we prioritize, the people we invest our lives into, and those we allow to pour into us will influence our future.
It is imperative for leaders to take time for reflection about where we are, where we’re heading, and if that is truly in line with where we want to go. One of the best ways to do this is to reflectively consider some questions like:
- Are my behaviors consistent with the character and aspirational values I want to have?
- If I stay on the path I’m on (e.g., relationships, outcomes, etc.), where will my life be ten years from now? Twenty years?
- After my leadership role is gone and I no longer hold an organizational position, what will I be left with?
- What relationships are most important to me? Do those individuals feel like I prioritize them right now?
- What do I want to be remembered for?
- What do I wish my younger self had known about (e.g., success, relationships, being a parent, etc.) that I know today?
After reading those questions, a knee-jerk reaction for most of us might be to say, “That might be helpful, but I just don’t have the time to work through all of that!” And if you fall into this lot, we gently respond with, “We get the time crunch, but you can’t afford not to take the time.” We increase our odds of tragedy and pain when we don’t take time to reflect as leaders. To maintain some semblance of health and wellness and to ensure we are heading in the right direction for life and leadership, we must make time for reflection and evaluation.
Take Time for a Pit Stop This Week: If you’ve ever watched the Daytona 500, you know that no one wins the race without making pit stops. Pit stops allow the tires to be replaced, adjustments to be made, and the tank to be re-fueled. As leaders, we must learn how to take personal pit stops to afford us the opportunity to reflect, re-fuel, and adjust. Take 15 to 30 minutes for a pit stop to reflect on your race.