Provision #666: Rituals Matter

Laser Provision

Our effectiveness at work declines if we are always on the go. That’s why great leaders develop regular, reflective rituals. We find ways to step back and to connect with purpose, plans, and people. That’s what makes great leaders so refreshing to be around. Instead of wearing people out with nonstop performance momentum, great leaders infuse people with energy by knowing just when to push and when to pull back. It’s an intuitive dance but it doesn’t materialize out of thin air. It’s cultivated one day and one ritual at a time. If you don’t have such rituals, then this Provision will give you at least 11 ideas. I encourage you to go out and make at least one of them your own.

LifeTrek Provision

If you have been reading through this series of Provisions on Evocative Leadership, then it should be clear by now that leaders have to juggle and pay attention to many things all at once if we hope to be effective. Although foveal vision is important, that clear line of sight to what matters most, our peripheral vision may be even more important, since the things going on around the edges have a way of disrupting even the best of plans.

To cultivate 20/20 leadership vision, both foveal and peripheral, great leaders do more than just eat carrots for beta carotene. Great leaders develop and practice rituals that help us to be mindful as we go through our days. There is no universal ritual that every leader needs to practice; there is a universal need for rituals, however, that great leaders recognize, respect, and render in our every day routines.

I’ve written before about the importance of developing healthy routines when it comes to stress management. I shared some of my routines with you and then I encouraged you to develop your own. I hope you took that advice. Through understanding what we value most, through learning what contributes to health and wellness, through connecting with others who have healthy habits, and through experimenting with different possibilities, we can discover, design, and deploy the routines that help us to relieve and recover from stress.

The same goes with the rituals that help us to increase our mindfulness as leaders.  Mindfulness, defined as the nonjudgmental awareness of what is happening in the present moment, represents both the consciousness that makes leadership evocative as well as the consciousness that leaders seek to cultivate through our rituals of preparation and engagement. Through mindfulness, we can keep our foveal vision in focus and, at the same time, maintain a full 360-degree sweep with our peripheral vision.

So what are some of the rituals of mindful leaders? I invite you to eavesdrop on week two of the Evocative Coach Training Program. We were discussing coaching presence, which is not that different from the kind of presence that leaders hope to convey and carry with us in our work, and our trainees were invited to brainstorm possibilities as to what they could do prior to a coaching session that would get them into a coaching frame of mind. Here were ten of the rituals they came up with:

  1. Breathing deeply and rhythmically
  2. Listening to inspirational music
  3. Eliminating distractions
  4. Entering a quiet and calm space to compose oneself
  5. Reading out loud your purpose statement and core values
  6. Setting your intention
  7. Checking your perspective and attitude
  8. Reviewing your notes and agenda points
  9. Releasing your attachment to an outcome and all sense of demand
  10. Remembering that it’s all about them

What a great set of rituals! They certainly apply to leadership presence just as well as to coaching presence. If we, as leaders, fail to incorporate reflective rituals in our daily lives then our leadership will succumb to what Tim Gallwey describes as “performance momentum.” Being constantly in a go-go-go state does not make for excellent leadership. Developing and taking the time for reflective rituals that interrupt our busyness is what great leaders do.

These rituals take place in between our moments of busyness, in those times when we STOP:Stepping back, Thinking, and Organizing our thoughts before Proceeding. Great leaders turn such stops into rituals. They won’t happen unless we take the time to make them happen.

Life doesn’t slow down or stop of its own accord. That’s true even in the natural work, but it’s especially true in the world of work which is increasingly a 24/7 operation. For one thing, in the global economy, someone is always awake working on something. I see that even in a small organization such as the Board of Governors of the International Association of Coaching. Our 16-member Board currently includes people from every time zone in the United States, plus zones in Europe, Israel, Australia, and Asia. As I sleep people on the other side of the globe are working.

Computers also contribute to the 24/7, go-go-go phenomenon. As a silicon-based life form, they do not follow the same rhythms as their carbon-based associates. People need time to rest and recover from our exertions; computers do not. Anyone who tries to keep up with the global economy or with their computers is doomed to fail. That goes for leaders as well as everyone else.

So don’t let that happen. Rituals matter. What do you do when you get up in the morning? David Whyte, in his poem “What to Remember When Waking,” reminds us to first peer into the small opening of the new day which closes the moment we begin our plans. Any of those ten rituals brainstormed in class can be done at the start of every day. There are plenty of other ones as well.

Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist’s Way, recommends the practice of journal writing. She calls them “morning pages” and she recommends exactly three. Write less and we don’t go deep enough. Write more and few people will be able to sustain the practice over time. Cameron views three pages as being just right when it comes to a morning ritual.

Later in the day, many leaders have been famous for the ritual nap taking, including Winston Churchill and a number of US Presidents. “You must sleep sometime between lunch and dinner, and no halfway measures,” Churchill famous wrote. “Take off your clothes and get into bed. That’s what I always do. Don’t think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That’s a foolish notion held by people who have no imaginations. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one • well, at least one and a half.” I have a friend who does that one better, taking two naps a day.

The point of this Provision is not to promote one ritual over another. The point is to emphasize the importance of renewal rituals for great leadership. Different leaders develop different rituals. That’s fine and as it should be. People have unique interests, abilities, and experiences. No great leader, however, goes without rituals altogether. They become intentional parts of our daily, weekly, and monthly routines such that we can easily describe and point to the ones we do on a regular basis.

If you don’t believe me, you might want to test the hypothesis for yourself. Go ask the leaders you know whether or not they have rituals or recurring practices that help them to be effective. Ask them how they stumbled upon those things and how important they think they are. Ask them to distinguish between the little things they may do on a daily basis and the larger things they may do on a weekly or monthly basis. Discover what things they do alone and what things they do with others. Then write me and let me know what you learned.

If your experience ends up being anything like my own, then your research will reveal just how much rituals matter. They are not nice-to-haves; they are have-to-haves. And great leaders develop great rituals for success.

Coaching Inquiries: Who do you think of as a great leader? What do you know about the things they do when you’re not around? How could you find out more? What questions do you have? How could incorporate your discoveries into your everyday life? What rituals make the most sense for you?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.

I really appreciate you reminding us of Megan’s work on trust in your last Provision. Relationships really do matter. Yeah Megan! Keep loving Bob.

You bet relationships matter. This is our 57th anniversary. Love to both you and your wife.

Quote of the day at the Boston Marathon: “I probably should consider this my last marathon, but you never know what•ll happen. My friends reminded me that I said that last year and the year before and the year before … I run with people all younger than me and they tell me I inspire them. That’s gratification for somebody my age.” Robert Borglund, 80, of Fort Myers, Fla., who won the men’s 80-plus age group at the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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