Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pardon the Interruption(s)

Circumstances may cause interruptions and delays, but never lose sight of your goal.
- Mario Andretti

Type A personalities in leadership make for interesting office drama when it comes to interruptions. For a task driven leader it can be a source of great frustration, and for his team it can make for uncomfortable relationships.

A story in Reader’s Digest a few years ago illustrates that despite how annoying interruptions may be when they occur, they can change our outlook and circumstances drastically when we have the opportunity to look at them from the benefit of historical perspective.

As the story goes, it was the Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend, and the Coconut Grove was packed. Waiters were setting up extra tables to handle the diners. The overflow from the dining room surged down a narrow stairway to the Medley Lounge.

The dimly lit basement bar offered a South Seas ambiance, with artificial palm trees, driftwood, rattan and a ceiling draped in blue satin. The only illumination came from behind the bar, supplemented by low-wattage bulbs hidden in the palms. Even this was too bright for one young man. He reached up, unscrewed a bulb and settled back in his date’s arms. Like many others there, he was in uniform. It was 1942; the U.S. had been fighting World War II for nearly a year.

Dr. Vincent Senna was having dinner that night in the Grove and was paged because one of his patients had gone into labor. Grumbling, Senna rushed to the hospital in time to deliver the baby, and save his life. Because after he left, for still unknown reasons, the Coconut Grove burst into flames, and over 450 people died in the smoke and flames. The interruption that ruined his evening also saved his life.

The next time you face interruptions they may not be ones that save your life as in the case of Dr. Senna. But they could be the indicators needed to help chart the course for your business or organization. Consider these three benefits of interruptions and how they can make you a stronger leader.

Interruptions give you time to reflect. Interruptions can be seen as an impediment to the task at hand but in actuality is a blessing. Interruptions become opportunities when you welcome them as gifts as opposed to setbacks.

Jim Rohn aptly said, “Give whatever you are doing and whoever you are with the gift of your attention.” While interruptions may seem irritating at the time, if taken advantage of they can serve you well if you allow it. In the end, it can make the difference between going forward with a good plan or a great one.

Interruptions give you time to listen. Interruptions may be nothing more than orchestrated moments in which you need to be still and listen to others around you and gain from their perspective. Winston Churchill said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

For the busy Type A leader, sitting and listening does not come naturally and it is usually uncomfortable. To be an effective leader there comes a time when you need an audience to listen to; not one to speak for. When a leader opens his ears, mind, and heart; great things can happen in him and in the life of the organization.

Interruptions give you a second chance. Dr. Senna’s interruption at dinner may have seemed like an intrusion to his evening. But as fate would reveal, it saved his life. The interruptions you encounter may annoy, aggravate, and irritate, but could be the very thing needed to save you from yourself and set you on the right course.

As leaders we tend to believe our own headlines and our narcissistic ways can blind us to present realities. Could it be that we have failed to understand that what we might perceive as an interruption could more accurately be described as an appointment with the Divine?

Interruptions can be obstacles that we curse or our stepping stones to success. When we choose to reflect, listen, and understand the blessing of second chances, we can rise to new levels as leaders.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

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