Been in this situation? You’re deep in the middle of a seemingly no-win mess, escalating bad news, shrinking options, and everyone from the big boss to the housekeeping crew is looking to you for directions, and solutions. Your mouth is dry, and pulse is racing. You can’t think of anything that helps. The little “you’re failing” voices become serious head trash.
The key leadership move is detachment. Detachment is the practical action of mentally separating yourself from the current situation to make better assessments and decisions. Detachment is using your imagination and intellect to see things from another perspective.
Detachment is a gift you give to yourself, and your team.
It’s not a new idea; Aristotle described it in his discussion about governing, and it’s evident in the biographies of Napoleon, George Washington, Indira Gandhi, and Benjamin Franklin. Detachment is a central theme in modern books like The E-Myth and Extreme Ownership. Michael Gerber recommended business owners “detach” so they could work “on” rather than “in” their business. Jocko Willink and Leif Babin describe how detachment enables military and business leaders to calmly but quickly assess fluid, possibly deadly situations and decide on the next action.
Consciously stepping up and outside of the situation helps enormously:
- You can make assessments and judgments with far less personal emotion
- You can better review a situation from different perspectives to gain insights, especially about the strategic leverage points which more apparent in some perspectives
- You can use the tactic of “giving advice to someone in this situation” more readily, because you’ve detached yourself
- It’s easier to take long deep breaths (oxygenate the blood going to your brain, slow your heartrate) and think clearly
Successful detachment requires confidence. The critical element in effective detachment is to focus on others, rather than yourself. It’s not about you in this moment; what’s going on with your team, your organization, the competition, the opponents? You can best help the people counting on you when your thoughts are not fixated on you.
Detachment is not only for crises, but should be a routine part of your leadership rituals and rhythms. Get up and out of the everyday workflow to consider the business, the workflow, key relationships, opportunities at the edge of where you are today.
You might be helped by setting up reminders for yourself to detach/observe/decide. You could schedule a recurring task, or place a post-it note in a place you’ll see regularly.
Gain experience at confident detachment, and you’ll be far more successful as a leader.