Leaders Know How to be Interruptible

Storm on horizon over interstate highway

Recently when driving across the country, I was in a zone. My radio was playing ‘60s rock and I was cruising along an interstate in the Midwest, the miles were clicking by. I looked ahead and saw some dark clouds rolling in. Ugh! It had been a few hours since I’d taken a break during which my hot rod, a Toyota Prius, had chewed up some serious mileage. But I was now ready to stretch my legs and eat some lunch. However, it now looked like I would soon be in the middle of a storm.

My lunch plans had been to eat a picnic-style lunch at a rest area along the interstate. It would be quick and tasty. You see, I had a good cooler with ice-cold drinks, some cheese, apples, crackers, and hard salami. There would be no waiting in line for food, no soggy buns, and no delays. I’d pull over, gas up, stretch my legs, eat, and get back on the road. Except for the storm!

The weather had other plans. The winds picked up, the rain came down, and the temperature dropped. As it turned out, I pulled over, got gas, and grabbed a Fresca and an apple. I ate in the car, on the move. No leg-stretching, no cheese, no salami, no crackers, no sliced apple, and no relaxing. I didn’t starve to death and I got back on my journey 15 minutes sooner than I would have otherwise but the storm had definitely interrupted my carefully laid lunch plans and schedule.

Do you have interruptions in your life? Of course you do. Sometimes the interruptions aren’t controllable. They simply come our way. The storm that came my way and interrupted my plans wasn’t controllable. I could adjust my plans, but I couldn’t control the interruption.

The real question is whether you allow yourself to be interrupted when it’s within your control. Great leaders know how to be interruptible. They recognize there are times to remain focused and on-task. But they also recognize there are times to be interrupted.

Ask someone who’s been around a while (a neighbor, an uncle, a grandparent, an elderly friend), someone who’s been there and done that, someone who’s seasoned (you know, someone in the twilight of their life, perhaps in their 80s or 90s) what they wish they’d spent more time on during their life. Almost always, they’ll say family, friends, relationships, laughing, traveling, etc. Rarely do they say they wish they’d worked harder, held down two jobs, or received more business accolades.

For sure a good job, strong work ethic, and financial/business success are important. These things have an impact on our families, our hobbies, our travel, our tithes, and the like. But they are a means to an end, not the end.

Don’t let good things get in the way of the best things. Be interruptible. It should be a case-by-case decision. But at least make it a deliberate and conscious decision. Allow yourself to be interruptible. Don’t get so caught up in tasks that you ignore relationships. Don’t get overly distracted by the administrative minutiae of life. Have a plan but be flexible. Be available. Know what’s important. Understand your priorities. Be present. Be interruptible.

Many people skip over the most important things. Things that are right in front of them. I’m reminded of an ancient story about two sisters who had a famous teacher in their house. One was busy with tasks like getting a meal ready. The other was listening to the teacher. Which was the better choice in that situation? Are meals important? Of course! But in that particular situation, one of the sisters allowed herself to be interruptible. She made the best choice and listened. For more details on what happened, check out the story of Mary and Martha (found in the Bible) if you don’t already know it.

Great leaders know that the most valuable thing they do on a given day may be the person they spend 10 minutes encouraging who wasn’t on their agenda. The conversation was an interruption but of utmost significance and value. Stay focused and get your tasks accomplished, but be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to others. Allow yourself to be interruptible on case-by-case basis.

No one said leadership was easy. You have to balance interruptions with deadlines and commitments. Tasks and relationships are both important. But great leaders demonstrate discernment, empathy, and compassion along with focus, drive, ambition, and performance orientation.

Have a great week and remember to be interruptible. Great leaders know how to be interruptible. Be a great leader.

is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]LeadStrategic.com.

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