Chapter 4

Slowing Down To Speed Up

Business is all about progress and forward momentum. We constantly track progress toward our goals and try to build momentum on key projects.

We like progress and momentum as individuals, too. Perhaps we even crave it in the same way we need our morning Latte, Cortado or Flat White.

It’s almost certainly our ability to make progress and get stuff done that has made us successful in our careers and got us where we are today.

If it weren’t for our ability to get through large volumes of work and deliver results quarter after quarter, year after year, we probably wouldn’t be in our current leadership position.

But there comes a point where a relentless focus on progress and momentum can start to work against us if left unchecked. As a wise person once said,

“If you do what you’ve always done, you will get what you’ve always got.”

A Different Approach

For leaders stepping into more senior roles where their focus shifts to delivering through others, as opposed to doing much of the doing themselves, it is worth reflecting on a variation of that famous quote.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you will get less than you’ve always got.”

My point is this. As we get promoted, we don’t miraculously find ourselves with less to do.

We don’t find we suddenly get 100 fewer emails a day. We will probably get more.

We don’t find we have fewer tasks to prioritise. We probably have more.

We don’t find there are fewer opportunities presented to us. There are more.

Longer + Harder + Faster = Burnout

This means that unless we consciously decide to work differently, we work longer, harder, faster, and more frenetically than ever before.

When this is coupled with our craving to make progress and build momentum, it can hinder the very thing we are trying to achieve. We don’t get more done; we get less done.

We charge from meeting to meeting, trying to get stuff done and move projects along. We return to our desks and see that another 50 emails have landed in our inbox whilst at our last meeting.

Corporate Whack Attack

Our response is like playing ‘whack attack’ at a fairground. As soon as a mole pops its head out of the hole, we smack it back in with the mallet as quickly as we possibly can.

We do the same with the emails and tasks that come our way. As fast as the emails come in, we forward them to a team member or colleague with a hastily typed covering note.

And we momentarily feel a little bit better.

We feel better because we’re making progress. We feel better because we get a quick shot of dopamine as we see the number of unread emails reducing.

But what about our team?

What impact does this have on them?

And what about the mid to long-term results?

An All Too Familiar Scenario

Picture the scene. You’ve had 15 minutes between two long meetings that have pretty much taken up your entire day. You have loads on your to-do list, and you feel that the last three hours in that meeting weren’t a good use of your time.

You need to make progress. You need some momentum.

So, without stepping back to clear your head and think, you fire off a few emails to your team delegating some tasks.

You quickly ask someone to follow up on an action from the last meeting. You then hastily reply to an email from a team member and forward another to someone else, asking them to deal with the latest request that landed on your desk.

A week later, you find yourself frustrated that the first task hasn’t been completed yet and the second isn’t to the standard you wanted. As to the third, well, you don’t even know where to begin. You can’t believe what you’ve been given as it’s so far from what you wanted!

The stress levels begin to rise along with our frustration, and we blame our team. But it’s not our team who are to blame.

Who's To Blame?

The blame rests with one person and one person alone.


It’s our fault.

It is nobody’s fault but our own.

If someone in our team didn’t do what we wanted, to the standard required, or by the time we needed it, it is nobody’s fault but our own.

What’s more, we should apologise to them. We should apologise because we have wasted their time, and in doing so, we’ve wasted our own time, too.

If we have delegated a task and it’s not been done as we intended, then it’s because we didn’t delegate it well enough.

Perhaps we didn’t make it clear what good looks like.

Perhaps we didn’t tell them why it’s important and where it fits into the bigger picture.

Perhaps we delegated it to the wrong person.

Perhaps we didn’t provide enough support and coaching.

Perhaps our rushed email when we delegated the task confused them. And perhaps they looked at us and saw a frantic leader charging about trying to get stuff done, and they didn’t want to trouble us.

As a result, they did what they thought was right and are repaid by being on the receiving end of our frustration!

Slowing Down, To Speed Up

The most effective way to achieve progress and momentum isn’t through the speed of action. It’s through slowing down to speed up. It’s about being effective instead of simply being efficient.

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.

Peter Drucker

Take a breath. Slow down. Make a thoughtful plan and see what amazing new results you can achieve.

You might enjoy working a little more and inspiring those around you.


Further actions

Listen to this Podcast

The neuroscience of slowing down with Professor Patricia Riddell – Episode 23

In recent years, I’ve heard neuroscience findings being used more and more in the business world. I’ve also realised that much of it is miss-quoted, misunderstood, or out of date.

With that in mind, I focused my conversation with Professor Patricia Riddell on de-bunking a lot of the false information around neuroscience and the practical ways in which we can use the real findings to improve our own productivity and become even better leaders for those that we serve.

Ep #023 – Patricia Riddel. Consultant Neuroscientist

Book Recommendation

Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

The book isn’t solely focused on leadership lessons but rather intertwines them with real-life combat mission narratives. Each chapter delves into the planning and execution of these missions, with the most insightful leadership lessons emerging from the subsequent debriefings—a practice often overlooked in many businesses.

Willink emphasises the importance of taking ownership, even in the face of mistakes, as demonstrated by his response to a friendly fire incident.

He accepted full responsibility, highlighting the principle of “extreme ownership,” where leaders hold themselves accountable for all outcomes under their command.

This concept challenges traditional notions of blame and accountability, especially in corporate settings, yet it remains a powerful and compelling principle for fostering growth and improvement.

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