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Hold the Center

As a leader, how comfortable are you with pausing?

For me, one of the hardest things you can ask me to do is to stand still when I think I know the next move to make. Leaders in general tend to have a bias for action…which at times can be to our detriment.

I am somewhat of a sports nut and recently discovered some fascinating research results from the world of soccer. A 2006 study of 286 penalty soccer kicks found when goalkeepers will hold the center ground (stay in the center of the goal), they are 33% more likely to block the kick. However, the study concluded that almost every time, the goalkeepers would instead decide on a more active “jump right” or “jump left” strategy to block the ball. This propensity to action actually decreased their odds of blocking the shot. The authors of this study argue that a bias for action is what prevents most goalkeepers from holding the center.

The work of leadership constantly demands action oriented problem solving. Numerous time sensitive issues place leaders in a default mode of constant action. Similar to goal keepers, leaders regularly jump right or left to manage crisis as it comes.

When a leader intentionally chooses to “hold the center,” their odds of success immediately go up.

Leaders anchored in exclusive “problem solving” may slowly drift off course from being the kind of leader they really want to be. By solely focusing on present problems, they may lose sight of the end goal. Although they are solving problems, these leaders may not be giving thought to who they are becoming in the process. On the other hand, taking time to reflect or “hold the center” provides leaders with space and time to consider personal and professional priorities.

One of the unique things about human beings is the ability to reflect.

If given the right amount of time and space, human beings can step outside of themselves and consider the trajectory of their life. The key words here are time and space. Problem solving happens at a fast pace in “real time.” The demands of the present require mental energy. In contrast, reflection requires intentional space and time. Reflective thinking connects a leader to his or her thoughts and emotions. Due to a typical bias for action, reflective thinking is an often a neglected practice.

How might it benefit you to recognize what you are feeling and why in a given situation?

Have you considered the navigational effect of your feelings? Are they leading you closer to or further from who you want to be as a leader?

There are numerous ways to “hold the center” as a leader.

Consider some of the following:

  1. Intentional space – By setting aside time every day to turn off your problem-solving brain, you might be surprised by the drift you have experienced in your foundational self. Taking some intentional space will enable you to reorient the current course your life is taking.
  2. Develop a structure – Decide to use part of your lunch hour or wake up 15 minutes early to allow yourself space for reflection. It will take effort and consistency to make reflective thinking a habit.
  3. Learn to journal – By carving out 5-15 minutes of your intentional space to jot down your thoughts and feelings, you might be surprised at emerging patterns and themes. These learnings may greatly inform your future responses to problems.

Like the goalkeepers from the study, you may prefer a jump left or right strategy. I hope you will consider “holding the center” instead – you just may find a 33% improvement in your own results!


Written by Erik Dees, Partner with Milestone Leadership

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