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Breaking Your Routine

Building Future Leaders

11/09/2009 - I’ve been vacationing in northern Virginia with some extended family members this week. Today, however, will be a full day of service to five leaders of a client company.

Circumstances required that I be up early to take my brother-in-law to his commuter train. He’s now speeding toward the Pentagon, and I have several hours until my day’s work begins. I’ll be driving in the same direction soon, but for now, I’ve found a quiet restaurant overlooking the commuter highway I’ll travel. As I enjoy my orange juice, coffee and breakfast, I relax, observing and reflecting on what I see.

The food is good, but the restaurant is almost empty. Why is this place not more crowded? There are more waitresses than patrons. I’m surprised, since this is a busy, crowded part of our nation.

I expected to have to wait for a seat. Where are all the people this morning? I pause and look around.

Aha, now I realize. I can see their profiles down below me in those cars and trucks. They have gobbled their breakfast somewhere in the crowded suburb to my left and they are now rushing bumper-to-bumper to the large city to my right.

I will be in that traffic soon enough. My brother-in-law counseled me to wait it out. He assured me I’d arrive at my appointment in plenty of time with a lot less stress if I would just let the heaviest hour of traffic pass. Ah, it’s good to have knowledgeable friends!

This is truly an abnormal morning for me. I rarely have this gift of time to muse. Those in my sight are caught up in their daily routines. I, too, am usually caught up in routine. But not today. I am thankful for the opportunity to reflect. I wonder when these people last opened themselves to new learning.

My mission today is to introduce a learning opportunity to five individuals. Their organization has committed to a renewal effort that recognizes the value of skill development for growing leaders.

As I observe the people in my sight, no one is learning anything new. They mastered their activities long ago. They repeat their morning routine so often that no conscious thought is required.

My routine has definitely been broken this morning. I feel privileged to ponder. We humans don’t learn much when we are caught up in routine. Routine tends to numb our brains, and I’ll need all my sensitivities later in the morning.

My time with these leaders today will certainly be a break in their routines. For the first time in a long time, maybe in their lives, they will consider their competencies among a wide assortment of leadership skills. Most of these individuals consider themselves good leaders. Each, however, will find dozens of attributes they will evaluate as significant limitations.

Today’s experience will be great learning in itself. Most individuals who conduct this self-evaluation do not realize how much is involved in “leadership.” For about an hour, they will be torn between wanting to look good in this assessment and realizing that they haven’t even considered the importance of some of these characteristics. Many eyes will be opened! For each, today’s activity begins a year of learning.

The president of the company made the decision for this intervention. The other four individuals are his direct reports, and they are fully supportive. Most feel this effort to amplify their skills is long overdue.

We humans need breaks in our routine to learn. Perhaps an hour of uninterrupted reflection. Perhaps the chance to pick the brain of a mentor. Perhaps some intentional instruction from a respected subject-matter expert. Perhaps a new awareness of something we’ve taken for granted all our lives.

Be careful that your routine isn’t so firmly entrenched that you miss the opportunity to learn in a new way. Pause and consider that your perspective is not “the truth,” but is limited to the little bit of life that you’ve personally experienced. Occasionally, hold your routine up to the light of day – and then break it!

Dennis Hooper is a leadership coach, helping leaders build organizations of excellence and future leaders. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call him at 478-988-0237. His Web site is www.buildingfutureleaders.com.

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