Staring at the Dark Side of the Moon
“So, what keeps you up at night?”
What an obvious cliché of a question for business leaders. Nevertheless, I too used to ask this question to help serve as a flashlight for grading the health of an organization. More sleep for the leader must mean the business is humming and in tip top shape.
Unless the things that make us toss and turn have nothing to do with our sales trajectory, operational gaps, or employee performance.
Certainly there will always be daily tension to address and problems to solve. Everything breaks now and then, particularly when organizations are perpetually growing and getting more complex along the way.
But I have a feeling that our restlessness is more often a deeper story to uncover.
Do we spend much time trying to discover and dig into these hidden roots, or am I just ok with a sleepless night? Or in many cases, a sleepless month. And sometimes this turns into a season with an unknown beginning and no end in sight.
What’s the deal with this ongoing mental battle that no sheep counting can conquer?
Historically, most leaders have shown little willingness to talk about even the surface-level business issues that might not be going according to plan. “We’ll just push through this like we’ve always done. After all, we have smart and capable people.”
Even fewer have wanted to verbally confess the enormity of the daily weight and stress on their shoulders. Mostly because few team members can see the full picture or understand what the leader is carrying to juggle it all.
And that’s just for the professional picture that often gets put into its own box, yet we are anxious about a whole lot more than what can be contained from 9 to 5 (or whatever pandemic hours have turned into these days).
If work is a pressure cooker with very little margin to breathe, then even the slightest pinch from our personal life will likely blow the lid right off. And then we’re back to staring at the ceiling. Again.
Andy Stanley just wrote a book that has a memorable line that might just be helpful in this context: “pay attention to the tension!”
If we were to lean into the conflict of our own story, and pay attention to what’s consistently tugging at our heart, what might we hear in the silence of our own soul?
What’s relentlessly grabbing our attention?
Because whatever has our attention is likely consuming us or probably changing us. Which makes me wonder if we are controlling our attention or if it is controlling us.
Unlike years past, I’m thankful that more leaders are willing to be increasingly vulnerable about what’s eating at them from the inside. Authenticity is much more attractive and contagious than playing pretend, and we were never meant to wrestle with the mess alone.
And if you are a leader not yet ready to find someone else to help shoulder the load, maybe today is at least the first step toward embracing the tug. Naming the tension out loud or just writing it down can begin a critical path in a new direction that doesn’t feel so lonely or empty.
And that constant tug may be there for a reason we might not yet recognize or understand.
In fact, I’m convinced there is not just something grasping for our attention but someone. One that wants us to just surrender and yield to a power and purpose way beyond ourselves.
Letting go of our own wheel and turning our attention in this direction might just be the best way to get some real rest.