Action Items to Make You Sleep Better

What Keeps You Awake at Night?

Newsweek magazine called the opening guitar riff to the Rolling Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, the “five notes that took the world.”

It has been widely reported that Keith Richards woke up in the middle of the night, recorded the riff and chorus on a portable tape recorder, and fell back asleep (he later described the tape as “2 minutes of music and 40 minutes of snoring”).

 He brought these two musical hooks to his band mates, and collectively the Rolling Stones launched a career breakthrough.

Your Inner Voice

An inner voice caused Richards to awake. Perhaps the Satisfaction riff came from an inner muse, but I suspect that Richards’ subconscious was processing tensions and anxieties from the Stone’s 1965 tour.

Similarly, an inner voice can help you with the tension and anxiety due to implementing strategy at work.

This analogy of Satisfaction with organizational strategy includes a dynamic context (e.g., a growing demand for bluesy British rock music), strategic intent (e.g., the Rolling Stones’ desire to be successful in the US market), and a group of talented collaborators.

The inner voice can resolve tension in ways that are good or bad. First the good….

Sparking Individual Creativity

As Keith Richards knew, the inner voice is an asset and a tool for problem solving.  Conrad Hilton explains,

“I know when I have a problem and have done all I can: thinking, figuring, planning, I keep listening in a sort of inside silence until something clicks and I feel a right answer.

Here are some good ideas for using the inner voice:

  • Work in very short, intensive bursts.  Strategy and its execution often involve considerable data, and this data requires analysis.  I find this helps me find clarity, and occasional breakthroughs: first, a deep dive into the data, and then a “time out” for a trip to the gym for some equally intense exercise.
  • Ask good questions.  For example, a company that was struggling with a vague strategic vision used this question: “How might we transform our organization from its current focus on operations to one where innovation is seen as an equally desirable activity?” As the team grappled with that question, they were often stuck by observations that everyone was busy, they had been successful to this point, and “that’s the way we do things.”  In other words, culture would get in the way of the transformation.  One breakthrough came when a member said he awoke with this question, “What are the core organizational values that give strength to this company?”  The resulting list became the pillars for making an effective transformation.
  • Listen well. People need to have a certain amount of venting to get their concerns off their chest.  A good leader will be patient listeners that are skilled in paraphrasing.

Your Unchecked Worrywart

The stresses of a strategic initiative can cause the inner voice to become overactive and anxious. Strategic initiatives have uncertain outcomes, and people are concerned that their personal association with a strategic initiative may lead to an unpleasant outcome.

As most know, people can get neurotic when they pay excessive attention to threats.

Action Items to Make You Sleep Better

We need to manage the concerns that cause the inner voice to speak up. Of course, we can’t ignore the organization’s desire for rationality and structure.

I have observed and participated in numerous risk brainstorming sessions, many of them bureaucratic exercises of identifying risk events; followed by analysis, prioritization and contingency planning.

If facilitated well, there is a sense of relief from anxiety.

Here is an interesting approach that provides a rational structure yet allows the inner voice to express its concerns:

I am working with a 12-person virtual group and we rely on conference calls supplemented by web tools. In my earlier meetings, I would simply say, “Let’s identify risks, assumptions, issues etc.” Most of the time there was very little participation.

This time I posed the question, “What keeps you awake at night?” It turned out to be an interesting modification of the “What about….” technique.

People could relate to the stress and anxiety of worry by this question, and it really engaged them emotionally and they were much more enthusiastic participants. We are now calling we are now calling them, Action Items to Make You Sleep Better. Our discussions were much more lively and productive.

Shakeel Ahktar
Denver, Colorado, USA

Turning Tension Into Action

Our job as leaders is turning tension into action

Strategic initiatives are characterized by ambiguity; most people tend to avoid ambiguity, or at tolerate it with discomfort.  This creates tension, which we overcome with action. The psychologist and humanist Viktor Frankl wrote,

“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.

One of the leader’s jobs is helping people resolve the tension between what individuals want to achieve (vision) and what is holding them back.

How do you turn tension into action?

About Greg Githens

Author, How to Think Strategically (2019) Executive and leadership coach. Experience in driving change in Fortune 500 and mid-size companies through strategic initiatives and business transformation. Seminar leader and facilitator - high-impact results in crafting and delivering strategy, strategic initiatives, program management, innovation, project management, risk, and capturing customer requirements.
This entry was posted in Competencies of Strategic Initiative Leaders, Strategy Coaching and Facilitation, Useful Practices & Management Tools. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Action Items to Make You Sleep Better

  1. Pingback: How to Use the “What About” Technique | Leading Strategic Initiatives

  2. Pingback: Fast and Effective Decisions Drive the Strategic Initiative | Leading Strategic Initiatives

  3. Pingback: Use the Prospective Hindsight Technique to Improve Your Vision Statements and Story Telling | Leading Strategic Initiatives

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