Adrian had been looking for a solution to an issue at work in her head for months (and months). She was, in her words, a perfectionist who was looking for a way to control the issue without negative consequences. She didn’t just ponder how to deal with it, she obsessed about it. It was beginning to impact her leadership and her personal relationships. Wishing that her obsessive thoughts about the issue would stop didn’t work; in fact, it made her more frustrated.
She discovered a way to find answers to the issue that worked for her and allowed her to take action. Once she did, she was able to come back to the technique she used over and over again, increasing her ability to make faster decisions and her effectiveness as a leader.
Very few leaders will claim to get stuck, but realistically we all do at some point. The decisions you don’t make are as important as the ones you do. So how do you get on with making them?
If you’re stuck, or you know you’ll be stuck at some point (this is a good assumption by the way), finding what works for you to become unstuck is key. Over the years, my client-leaders have shared lots of ideas about how they “get on with it,” and I’ve got a few of my own. So here are the most frequently cited ways to know what to do when you don’t know what to do:
Talk it out with someone: Find the best listener you know and talk about the thing that has you stuck. You might be one of those people who think out loud and find that the act of speaking about the situation is enough to help you to find solutions. Or, you might benefit by asking the smartest person you know for their advice. Finally, you might find a coach who’s been trained to listen well and to ask great open-ended questions to help you out.
Reflect on some provocative questions: A standard set of provocative questions can be used in reflection to help you get out of your head and into action. “What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail?”; “What am I committed to in this situation?”; “What don’t I know that I need to know about this?”; are examples. If you can’t design the questions yourself, head on out to your favorite bookstore to purchase a book of questions – there are a lot of them out there.
Get away: The importance and timeliness of resolving the issue might impact your strategy here, but for many people, getting out of their usual place of work or play can help. Travel someplace you’ve never been, or take a walk in nature. Some people get their best ideas in the shower – so go take a shower! Take art classes, organic chemistry class, or whatever interests you to get away from your usual routine and give your brain a rest from the issues you’re stuck with.
Wait: Sleeping on it, or just moving on to something else are enough for some people to stop obsessing over a problem and come up with solutions. It’s pretty magical for some people. Your unconscious mind seems to do the work for you, in the background, allowing you to get back to the issue with fresh ideas later.
Don’t wait: Sometimes just taking the smallest action toward resolving the situation is enough get solutions to the issue flowing. Do it now. Don’t wait. You might ask yourself, “What small step can I take to resolve or make a decision on this issue?”. Start with low hanging fruit – something easy and without risk.
Getting out of being stuck often resolves by taking some action, any action – that seems to work. The five things mentioned above have helped other leaders; what works for you?
P.S. A favorite trick of writers who are blocked is to just write – anything, even if it’s nonsense that won’t get used. I got started on this article by writing nonsense about having writer’s block. It works!
Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 12 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive-coaching firm that manages Fortune 500 corporate-coaching initiatives and coaches leaders to prepare them for bigger and better things.
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