The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

July 17, 2017

Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There – Part 1

Been recognized, maybe promoted, for your productivity or efficiency? Then taking time to think, to plan, to evaluate, to research, to dialogue – that might seem a distraction from the important work of gettin’ stuff done. Au contraire, say Jim and Steve.  If you want to be a leader, you often have to stop getting things done.

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Voiceover: It’s a northwest lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. Now a show for anyone who is, or has a boss: This is The Boss Show with Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.
Steve Motenko: Today on The Boss Show, the value of not getting things done, or: Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There. I’m Steve Motenko, I’m The Psychology Guy. I’m a certified personal development coach who works with leaders here in the Seattle area, both in 1-on-1 executive coaching as well in teams of managers, most often in workplaces with Path Forward Leadership Development, which my cohost founded.
Jim Hessler: Yeah. I’m Jim Hessler, I’m The Business Guy, and along with being the founder of Path Forward, I’m the author along with Steve of the book Land on Your Feet, Not on Your Face. I love the title of your show today, “Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There.” Did you think of that or did you steal that from something? Because that’s pretty brilliant.
Steve Motenko: Yeah, I stole it from somewhere. I mean, I heard it years and years ago, so …
Jim Hessler: Don’t just do something, sit there.
Steve Motenko: … I’m hoping it’s not copyrighted. Jim, in this two-parter, this is part one, our hope is, first of all to convince you of the value … Not you, Jim, but you as you listen to this, to convince you of the value of taking company time to not get things done.
Jim Hessler: Don’t worry, we’ll explain what we mean by that.
Steve Motenko: Secondly, to help you understand why doing that is so challenging, and thirdly to offer you tools for overcoming those challenges and thus being a more effective leader. Again, by taking time to not get things done. So Jim, are you willing to do a little roleplay with me?
Jim Hessler: Let’s do it.
Steve Motenko: Okay.
Jim Hessler: As long as it doesn’t involve llamas or alcoholic beverages.
Steve Motenko: How about trust falls? How do you feel about trust falls?
Jim Hessler: No, no trust falls.
Steve Motenko: Okay, fair enough. No trust falls involved. Okay. I’m coming to you because you’re this big high-powered leadership consultant guy, okay? I’m a young, first-line manager at a small tech company here in Seattle. Now, I know why I was promoted to management. It’s simple: I get things done. I’m hyper-organized, I’m smart, I work fast, I work faster than just about everybody else around me. I even talk fast, okay? My whole career, people have had trouble keeping up with me, that’s how fast I am. I’m admired for all that and I’ve been promoted for it.
Here’s the problem: My new boss is leaning on me to spend time doing all this extraneous stuff, like documentation, reports and spreadsheets, best practices manuals, planning and brainstorming. I don’t have time to do all this stuff. My boss is even suggesting that I have weekly one-on-ones with my staff. I mean, who’s got time? And the other day she said, “Spend an hour a month researching the competition.” You gotta be kidding me! And then she talks about, “Well, management by walking around.” It’s like, it’s so pointless. We’ve got work to do here. And then, as if that weren’t enough, she actually scheduled a day-long retreat to create a mission and vision statement for our team. Can you believe it? We’ve got customers to take care of. We won’t have a business to create a vision for unless we get to work.
Now I know that I should focus on my work relationships more. It doesn’t really come naturally to me. Between you and me though, I find people a lot more difficult than writing code. I would spend more time with my coworkers, but I don’t have the time, you know? And why should I coddle them to do their work? They’re here to do a job. They should just do it.
Jim Hessler: They’re getting paid for it, they should just do it, huh?
Steve Motenko: Exactly. I’m glad to hear you’re on my side.
Jim Hessler: Well, Steve, thanks for sharing where you’re at, and I can see this is very stressful for you, and I appreciate that, because this is what Plank 4 of The Leadership Platform is about, which is in our book Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face. So we want to spend the show today kind of breaking down what you’ve said, because it’s so common for people to take pride and I’ll say refuge in tactical work. It’s the stuff that makes you feel productive on a day-to-day basis. It’s something you can do right now that feels done, that feels competent, that feels worthwhile in the moment, and then all this stuff around planning, around reading a book, having a brainstorming meeting, feels to you like it’s getting in the way, so this brings up fundamental questions of your role as a leader in your organization, because what I hear is you’re a technician, you’re a doer. I don’t hear that you’re a leader, because all that stuff you don’t want to do is leadership stuff.
Steve Motenko: Fine, so you’re telling me I’m not a leader. Okay, well, I do have to get back to work, but I think I can spend at least this show hearing what you have to say about why I’m not showing up like a leader and how I could, by spending more time, I guess, reflecting.
Jim Hessler: Yeah, so a quick story around this. You and I and several of our colleagues in this area spend a lot of time with people and what I would call kind of reflective work, or the kind of work that we describe in our book as “sandal work” as opposed to what we call “boot work,” right?
Steve Motenko: “Sandal” evoking the Greek philosophers.
Jim Hessler: Yeah, the thinking, walking around and not doing anything other than just kinda thinking deep thoughts, and we spend a lot of time with our clients, so a friend of mine, a local good friend of mine named Dave, has a business where he works with business executives, and he has these kind of long monthly meetings, hour and a half or so where they’re really talking about “working on the business rather than in the business”, is the terminology they use. It’s an organization called Excel, which is a great organization for business owners and entrepreneurs locally, and he was sitting with one of his clients one day and they were having this nice long conversation, kind of deep conversation about where the business was going and strategy, and all of a sudden after an hour and a half, his client stood up and said, “Well, I need to get back to work.” And Dave said, “What the heck have we been doing for the last hour and a half?”
Steve Motenko: Wrong answer.
Jim Hessler: Yeah, but it’s so common for people to think that that sort of stuff isn’t even work. They don’t even call it work.
Steve Motenko: So Jim, Kodak. Those of you who are millennials or younger may not even be familiar with the term, but Kodak totally dominated the photography industry through most of our lifetimes, and they tragically, catastrophically neglected to anticipate the onset of digital photography and what might happen. Interesting kind of background to that story is that the digital photograph was invented, digital photography was invented by Kodak. The Kodak engineer who invented the first digital camera in 1975 though, in the New York Times characterized the initial corporate response to his invention this way: He said, “But it was filmless photography, so management’s reaction was, ‘Well that’s cute, but don’t tell anybody about it.'” And then after that, Kodak’s marketing VP conducted an extensive research effort that concluded that even though digital photography did represent a huge threat to film photography, it would take some time, and it predicted somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 years for it to become this big threat, for it to begin to replace film photography. So Kodak executives looked at it and said, “Oh, well we have 10 years to adapt, to adjust,” and then they never bothered to adapt or adjust.
Jim Hessler: Right, so what we’re talking about today is what ends up being Plank 4 of 12 Planks in our leadership platform in our book Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face, and this one’s called the boot and the sandal, and one of the quotes from the book I think is important, Steve. We say the intentions of a manager are to ensure the successful day-to-day operation of the business enterprise. The intentions of a leader are out there, over the horizon, in the future, big picture thinking. I don’t want anybody to think by “manager” we’re referring to a person, and “leader” we’re referring to a person. It can be the same person, but when you’re engaging in leadership activities, you’re thinking about something that isn’t there yet. You’re thinking about a future that has not yet arrived. You’re thinking about possibilities, but the word “thinking” is important in that sense.
Steve Motenko: Yeah, definitely.
Jim Hessler: You have to be thinking in order for that to happen.
Steve Motenko: So Jim, as a business guy, you have worked in a lot more organizations than I have. I’m sure you’ve worked for bosses who aren’t long-term thinkers. What’s that pain like?
Jim Hessler: Well, I think that what happens with successful people and people who’ve risen to the top of the hierarchy, is they kinda get into this, “Well, I’m fine. I’ve arrived, and you should be fine too because I’m driving the nice car and I’ve arrived, I’m where I want to be.” So you get this frustration. You’re kinda scratching your head with a person like this, at all the things they’re ignoring, all the possibilities they’re not addressing, all the big picture issues that they’re not … and so you feel stuck. At some point you just give up, and you stop thinking creatively yourself because it’s not being rewarded and there’s no time being created for it.
Steve Motenko: And if you’re working in that kind of organization, chances are you’re absorbing that cultural mindset, and you too, like Kodak, may be left behind in the dust. Today the topic is “don’t just do something, sit there,” and of course we don’t really mean “just sit there,” but what we do mean is don’t always, as a leader, regardless of whether you have positional authority or not, if you have any influence on anyone as we always say on this show, you’re a leader, and you could be even more of a leader than you are.
Part of being a leader is taking time to reflect, to plan, evaluate, to do things that aren’t about just getting the day-to-day tactical stuff done, and the distinction we make in our book Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face, as Jim mentioned, is “boot work,” which evokes the idea of, “I’m In the trenches and I’m shoveling the dirt,” and “sandal work” which evokes the idea of the Greek philosopher or maybe you’re sitting on the beach thinking great thoughts in your sandals, but give us some ideas, Jim. When we talk about sandal work and we talk about thinking, what kinds of things are we thinking about? What kinds of activities?
Jim Hessler: Well, the first big word that comes to mind is “planning.” I mean even spending 15 minutes at the beginning of your day planning your day is surprisingly uncommon. It’s just amazing how many people strap their boots on, and just start firing into their emails or stepping into a meeting without any time to mentally prepare for the day and plan their day.
Steve Motenko: Not only surprisingly uncommon, but surprisingly effective, because I’ve recommended to countless numbers of clients of mine, and in almost all cases, when they can lift themselves out of their boot work long enough to do it … As you say, 15 minutes is usually all we need at the beginning of the day … It sets the tone for their day and makes them much more effective, but also much less stressed.
Jim Hessler: Yeah, and again, we want to make sure that we’re not just talking to leaders here, because you should have some component of sandal activity in your work, no matter what level you are at the organization.
Steve Motenko: Yeah, you should always be asking how to do things better than you’re currently doing, for example.
Jim Hessler: Well, yeah, and you know, if you want to distinguish yourself in your company and add value, think broadly about the market that you’re serving and who your competitors are. What’s your company mission? What is your company’s value proposition? Is it working? Is it not working? Anything, study, analysis, reading the Wall Street Journal. Reading a trade magazine. Reading a good novel. All of these things are things that kind of come into the category of what I would call “Why?” Which is I think a good contributor in business, is always walking in and saying, “Why are we doing what we’re doing? Is it getting us the result we want? And if not, what’s wrong with the systems and processes that we’re using to get the work done?”
Steve Motenko: And not only, “Why are we doing what we’re doing?” but “Why aren’t we doing what we’re not doing?” Which is a more difficult question to access, but a critical question to submit to a brainstorming process. “What’s in our way of doing what we should be doing?”
Jim Hessler: Right, absolutely. Really, we believe that every employee should have the opportunity to use their brain, and we believe that employees’ brains get better and add more value the more they’re used. The problem is that very few companies put a value on this sort of think time, and don’t give employees enough time to do it, and don’t hold their employees accountable for contributing at this sandal level to what they’re doing. That’s what we need to talk about, is why should you give that time to your employees and how do you do that?
Steve Motenko: And often they think that market forces drive or market demands drive their need not to spend that time.
Jim Hessler: So what we’re seeing is that there’s not enough time in the workplace typically for people to reflect, plan, strategize, brainstorm, et cetera, and that’s because you’ve got customers calling, placing orders. There’s always a draw to doing that next thing that’s in front of you, rather than putting that aside and really thinking about the future. Now what I think we have to be careful with, Steve, when you’re asking our organizations to be more thoughtful and intellectually engaging, there’s a lot of companies that think, “Well, we have this big two day off-site once a year, isn’t that enough?”
Steve Motenko: So once a year we can think about what we’re doing well and what we aren’t and what’s in our way.
Jim Hessler: Right, and so really what they’re doing, I think without thinking about it, is actually reinforcing the idea that this sandal activity, this thoughtful activity, is segregated from the rest of the stuff we do.
Steve Motenko: Yeah, as an extracurricular, too.
Jim Hessler: Right, and if you look at any business that’s done really well with any sort of agile process or even lean or any sort of continuous improvement project, it has to be part of what people are thinking about every single day in every single moment, so we like to talk about kind of two parallel thought processes that are going on in your mind. No matter what job you have, you’re obviously at any given point in time, you’re thinking about what you need to do to complete the work, to deliver value, to respond to the customer request, to get to the email, but we want to ask you, as much as it’s possible, to have a separate … Concurrent, not separate, but concurrent train of thought that says, “Why the heck am I doing what I’m doing right now?”
Steve Motenko: Right, and there are so many questions that you can ask yourself. There’s so many questions that you can use to seed that process. Sometimes if you think, “How do we do what we do better?” It’s a good question, but there’s so many others. There are questions like, “What are the external factors that might come along in the future or that are now, that are impeding our being as effective as we can?” But then there’s also the internal factors. As I said earlier, “What are we not doing that we should start doing, and what’s in our way of doing that? What are the cultural messages that are kind of subconscious but insidious that keep us from growing, that keep us from imagining what’s possible?”
Jim Hessler: So we’re in the studio today recording this Boss Show episode. I know just from habit, that I’ll drive away from the studio today thinking about how we could have done a better show than we did. That’s just, to me that’s kind of natural thinking. It’s very habitual thinking. We don’t necessarily have to have a meeting for that to happen. I don’t have to write up a summary for you. We don’t have to make any of that stuff particularly formal. I think one of the great things that I like is when we conduct our workshop sessions, which are four hours in length. 98% of the time, we’ll have a little feedback session at the end of the workshop and say, “What’d we do today that worked for you? What’d we do today that didn’t work? What do you want to do differently next time?” Now there’s a couple of values to that. Number one, we get some great feedback that’s helpful to us as we develop the program, but if you think about what we’re also doing, we’re also asking our clients to participate with us in the continual improvement of our product.
Steve Motenko: I think we’re making a compelling case here. I hope you agree. Again, using the example of Kodak, there are so many ways in which change is occurring at such a constantly accelerated pace, that if we don’t keep up by looking at what’s going on around us and by analyzing how we’re doing what we do, then we too may be left in the dust, but part of the puzzle of answering that question is, “What keeps us from doing this hugely important reflective work?” We’ve hopefully made a compelling case for the value of planning, analyzing, strategizing and so forth, but it’s really hard. It’s really hard for us each individually to engage in. Why is that, Jim?
Jim Hessler: Well, there’s a lot of reasons. First of all, we like to tell people that if you don’t have too much work to do, you probably don’t have a viable job in the American economy. We all have more work to do than we have time for, so we need to start off just by acknowledging that.
Steve Motenko: And being busy, as we’ve often said on the show, is a badge of honor in our culture.
Jim Hessler: Right, so understand that you will never probably get completely caught up on the tactical work that you need to do. Things like your emails and your phone calls and paperwork and things like that, so I think there just first of all has to be an acceptance, that that will always be there, and working 50 hours a week and not doing anything during that 50 hours a week that actually makes things better from a systemic perspective is just wrong, because it just means that you’ll have to come back the next week and work 52 hours and the week after that work 54.
Steve Motenko: And if any large wrench gets thrown into the works, then it’s hopeless. You haven’t anticipated that.
Jim Hessler: Right, so one of the big problems we have in the workplace is that we have an enormous cultural bias towards taking action on things instead of actually stopping and thinking about them. I don’t think Americans necessarily have a reputation of people who like to sit on the back porch and think great thoughts. We’re out with the Ski-Doos and the gold clubs and all kinds of things. We’re doers. Americans are big doers.
Steve Motenko: Right. It’s a particularly American value, I think.
Jim Hessler: Yeah.
Steve Motenko: And also there’s this, I think human nature thing about immediate gratification. My wife and I are both people who make lists on the weekends, and we’ll check them off, check everything off one at a time and there’s this sense of gratification every time you get something accomplished. We’ll even sometimes get something accomplished that’s not on the list and then we’ll add it to the list just so we can check it off.
Jim Hessler: I’ve done that.
Steve Motenko: So it’s just typical for us to get this kind of short-term almost rush of energy when we get something done, no matter how small, and if we’re thinking, planning, strategizing, we’re not getting anything done, hence the title of the show.
Jim Hessler: Right, and I don’t want to have people stop doing that, because I think that’s just really natural human behavior. I tend to have good days when I get a lot of things done, right? What we’re really talking about here is changing the list, so that the list includes things that are thoughtful. For example, if you have a list of 10 things to do today, and one of them is not to take a walk or to meditate or to write a letter to your kid or something like that, the sandal activities, the really thoughtful activities tend to be things that we say, “Well, I’ll do that when I have time.” And then we just never have time, and we avoid them also because they’re more difficult. It’s more difficult for us, intellectually, to sit down and write a thoughtful letter to somebody than it is to mow the lawn.
Steve Motenko: Right. I think that’s an important thing to recognize. Another way to say I think what you just said, Jim, is: change the definition of “doing something,” right?
Jim Hessler: Right, exactly.
Steve Motenko: Strategizing, having a brainstorming conversation, developing a relationship, going out to lunch with a coworker for an hour and a half instead of a half an hour at your desk …
Jim Hessler: Put that on your list.
Steve Motenko: These are doing somethings, somethings that you do and they can be hugely helpful in the long term. One other thing that we haven’t mentioned, Jim, is brain exhaustion. How tired we get when we think.
Jim Hessler: Yeah. Our brain is only about three and a half pounds, but it can use as much as 25% of the oxygen in our bodies when we’re thinking deeply about something.
Steve Motenko: So when you’ve been sitting there thinking for a long time or in a long brainstorming meeting and you’re tired, you know why. We want you to stay with us next week for part two, when we talk about how to do these things that we’re hopefully convincing you are really important to do, like taking time to plan, to strategize, to build relationships.
Jim Hessler: The Boss Show is produced by Path Forward Leadership and our sound engineer is Kevin Doggerel.
Steve Motenko: If you missed any of the show, you can get it in its entirety online at That’s also where you can go to subscribe to our podcast or to contact us, maybe to bring us into your workplace.
Jim Hessler: Thank you very much for listening.
Steve Motenko: And don’t forget: Rule number six.
Jim Hessler: Rule number six.

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