August 30


Why the “Just Do It” Mantra Can Backfire for Leaders

By Sara Canaday

August 30, 2019

business leaders, career, career success, leadership, leadership behaviors, leadership characteristics, leadership skills

We leaders are, by definition, doers. We finish. We deliver. We get results. And we love the feeling of accomplishment that comes with crossing things off our “to-do” lists. The tougher the task, the better we like it. We revel in being the person others come to with impossible tasks, and we somehow make them happen. That’s how we got here, right? We became the go-to resource for everyone else because we get things done. No whining. Just do it.

But what if our bias for action, our quest for pushing harder, won’t work anymore? What if incessant doing keeps us from greatness? Is that possible?

Absolutely. Our minds and our bodies have limits. Expecting ourselves to succeed in the context of a constant, do-more, think-more, produce-more world is self-defeating, at best. Worst-case scenario? It could be disastrous. For our projects, for our teams, and even for our health.

So, what’s the answer? It might surprise you, but it won’t surprise leaders out there who are already doing it.

The best modern leaders have figured out that they need to take a strategic pause (deliberately hit the brakes). Instead of making action the default for every challenge, these leaders are pairing that alternative with an opposite response. It’s not about replacing action, which we know is a necessary leadership ingredient. We still need to reach our goals, meet deadlines, and produce results. This is different.

They think of it as developing a companion habit that celebrates BEING rather than DOING. It involves a strategic pause. Mental time. Space for their brains to percolate and process the mounds of information they’ve been packing in. Whatever we call it, this new habit requires consistently taking some time away from the chaos of business to let ourselves reflect and plan. To connect the dots between information in different ways and to look at challenges from a fresh angle. To figure out how we want to take advantage of technological advances or act on the ideas that are swimming in our heads. We can’t possibly do that when we are in constant motion.

No doubt about it, modern leaders have realized the extraordinary benefits of the strategic pause. They don’t mistake motion for meaning.

Yes, it’s tough to do. I admit it. We’ve been taught to move forward, to finish, to be relentless. We have even been handsomely rewarded for it.

But I am here to tell you that if you want to expand your impact, stop feeling like a walking “to-do” list and bring meaning back to your role as a leader, adopt the strategic pause. Proactively make an unbreakable appointment with yourself on a regular basis. Give yourself time and space. Change the scenery. Allow your mind to explore options beyond the usual solutions. You, your team, and all your stakeholders will be glad you did.

The willingness to sit still while everyone else is in motion is just one of the strategies used by today’s modern leaders. To learn more, I invite you to explore my new online course, just released on LinkedIn Learning or read my latest book, Leadership Unchained: Defy Conventional Wisdom for Breakthrough Performance.



Sara Canaday

About the author

Sara began her journey working full-time while she earned an MBA. As she climbed the ladder of corporate America, she repeatedly observed a surprising phenomenon: the most successful people weren’t necessarily the ones with the highest IQ or best job skills. She recognized instead that career advancement was much more closely linked with how people applied their knowledge and talents — their capacity to collaborate, communicate, and influence others.

Today, Sara is happily fulfilling that commitment as a keynote speaker, author, and executive coach. These venues have given her the opportunity to mentor and support thousands of people in diverse situations, inspiring many of them to move from insight to action with dramatic career results.

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