The pace of modern life requires us to think faster, act quicker than ever before. But how much do we not notice when we operate at speed? What do we misconstrue, misunderstand or just miss? Conversely, how much richer is our experience and deeper our connection with others and with our environment when we make time to take a second look? As leaders, when we take a second look at a problem, a situation, a team member, it is always time well spent.

Recently this observation came into sharp focus for me, in a totally unexpected way. I had a couple of hours between meetings in London and, rather than scrolling through emails, making calls, or doing some hurried shopping, I decided I would take the time to slow right down for a short time. I realised there were a couple of churches in the vicinity, buildings where I knew that I would find some peace and quiet, so went to sit in each of them, to soak up the stillness and just let my mind settle. I was so struck by the experience that I recorded my observations in my journal.

The first church had a very plain interior. It was bright and airy but almost clinical in its sparseness. There was little to catch the eye, so it was a great space to just be, with no distractions. Interestingly, the style of my notes unintentionally reflected the stripped back surrounding, with a short list of bullet point observations. The second church could not have been more different inside. The dark woodwork was intricate and ornate and each one of the windows was a masterpiece of coloured glass. The atmosphere was deeply comforting and warm and my eye was drawn in every direction. The ceiling trusses were beautifully detailed, but I was puzzled that they appeared to have wings sprouting from their underside. It was only after sitting there for quite some time and looking around the church up close that it suddenly dawned on me that the wings belonged to angels which were also carved on the beams. I was incredulous that I had completely missed this on my initial inspection! Now that I saw it, it was blindingly obvious, yet I had failed to notice it first time around. When I read over the notes I made in the second church, there is so much detail in my writing. The long, descriptive sentences capture the huge variety of what I saw and felt, and I can still vividly recall the full sensory experience.

Looking back on those couple of hours of meditation and observation I realise what a profound effect they had on me. By pausing to take a second look, I gained a fresh perspective both literally and metaphorically.

In leadership, particularly when we are under pressure to make decisions or act, the temptation is to rush the process. But when we take the opportunity to slow down, to find clarity and come to a new understanding of a situation, it can be truly revelatory. Just as we advocate embracing silence in order to improve our listening skills, employing our observational skills by taking a second look always reveals hitherto hidden details.

What might you uncover if you pause to observe?

  • Latent talent in a member of your team, hidden in plain sight
  • A new sales opportunity that is right under your nose
  • A potential problem which could cause damage if not resolved
  • Possible synergies which would unlock growth opportunities

Remember, great leaders don’t let familiarity breed contempt; they see every day through fresh eyes and always take a second look.

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