Q: What can the 80s rock band The Police teach us about leadership?
A: Turns out they planted a seed in me that has grown into a useful business practice.
That practice, which I have learned others also follow, is to create two lists that help free up the clutter in our heads and generate more time to think. The result is better, more efficient solutions.
Before I explain how those lists work, let me tell you how The Police and their lead singer/songwriter, Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, to his mother, Sting to the rest of us, fit in.
When I was a kid, I watched every weekday as a zombie-like workforce filed into commuter trains heading into downtown Chicago. Those people looked completely devoid of joy and hope. I vowed never to become one of them.
At the time, The Police album Synchronicity was at the top of the charts, and I had Sting’s lyrics from the title song bouncing around in my brain.
Another working day has ended
Only the rush hour hell to face
Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes
Contestants in a suicidal race
We all know what it is like to be running on fumes by the time our 12-hour workday is supposedly over. So many of us grab our stuff, throw on our coats, turn off the lights and melt into the rush hour traffic.
Usually we have too much on our minds—which robs us of time to think, dream and unwind. What that means, as you face your rush hour hell, is you’ve likely just missed the first golden opportunity to be a better leader, parent and friend. More on that in a second, but first, let’s fast-forward four or five hours.
You’ve now had dinner, maybe helped with homework or taken on a mindless chore or two. You may have rewarded your efforts with a glass of wine and indulged in some therapeutic digital surfing. The Type A’s have even squeezed in a quick workout. (Go you!) Satisfied that you’ve gotten every ounce you could out of the day, you put your head on the pillow and drift away.
Another suburban family morning
Grandmother screaming at the wall
We have to shout above the din of our Rice Crispies
We can’t hear anything at all…
As you prepare to face another day, you probably don’t recognize that somewhere in the night you missed your second opportunity—this time to become a more brilliant leader.
So here is the lesson that started with a wonderful song with foreboding lyrics:
There are two lists that my most successful friends make every day.
The first list is all about clearing the mind.
At the end of every workday, simply make a list of everything you need to get done the next day. For extra credit, rank the list from essential to important. Now, put down your pen and step away from your desk and call it a day.
Whether you commute or work from home, it’s critical that you learn to compartmentalize your challenges. Step away from the fire. Take a mental break. Leave work at “work.” Most challenges are easier to solve if you step away from them.
The next morning, those challenges will greet you and your fresh perspective. You can then knock down the essential things on your list.
The second list is equally important, albeit shorter.
Our subconscious is like a supercomputer. So try this: Just before you go to bed, ask yourself a question. Think about a puzzle you are trying to solve at work and say, “I wonder how to handle it? I think I will sleep on it.” Then let it go. Rest assured (pun intended), you will wake up with answers to your challenge. Your best ideas happen during your morning shower because your subconscious brain has been working on puzzles while you’ve been sleeping.
I promise you, these two simple practices will take the sting out of your toughest day. Pleasant dreams.
Many miles away
There’s a shadow on the door
Of a cottage on a shore
Of a dark Scottish lake
Many miles away, many miles away