Facing the blank page

facing the blank page

Monday morning. My first calls and meetings start in an hour and will continue until late, so I sit here with one task at hand, to write the daily post to go out tomorrow morning.

Normally that feels great, except today, there is a problem.

I have no idea what to write about, I am facing the blank page.

So what to do, not only as a writer but also as a leader when momentum has stalled, when your team is stuck, when you don’t know what to do next?

Join me as I explore these two questions.

So,

What do you do when you don’t know what to write? Just write.

What do you do when you don’t know what to do next as a leader? Just lead.

This brevity reminds me of my favourite podcast, @wittertainment , which I love as a movie fan as, formally, it is a movie review show. However, what I and a legion of fans around the world love more is the banter between the hosts, Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode, who laugh, joke and argue their way through two hours each week and have done for many, many years.

A few years ago they thought they might expand their social media profile when Snapchat was coming to the fore. As crusty mid 50s men, they decided to ask the young show production assistant on air “how do you Snapchat?”. His answer? “You just Snapchat”. This then became the default Wittertainment answer to anything new, confusing, complicated, complex. Often in jest, “you just {insert problem here}” became part of their lexicon.

Anyway, I digress, so let me first talk about “Just write”, then I’ll move on to “Just lead” with a personal leadership story from last week.

Just write

I’ve now written daily posts for approaching 400 days in a row and the system tells me my average post length is about 550 words, so that is well over 200,000 words, or enough for at least 2 or 3 books. Over that time, one thing I have learned is that sometimes all it takes is the slightest inkling of an idea, then when I sit down and start writing ideas flow.

The idea is often in the form of a question, such as today with what happens when one faces the “blank page”.

The joy of writing online is that once the ideas start to flow I can always edit, reshape, re-order them as they gradually form into something cohesive. This is actually what has happened today and what you read is the reshaped thoughts. This post didn’t start out this way, the second idea around “Just Lead” came to me mid-stream, then I re-organised my writing to shape to the evolved idea.

So, just write. Start, see what happens, then see what shape it takes. Takes as much or as little time as you need to edit it, then “ship your art” as Seth Godin would say. Put it out there. Just write, and then in terms of publishing, do as Nike would say, “Just do it”.

Just Lead

Now let’s take some of those themes to leadership. Specifically what to do when you are faced with that “blank page” when you just don’t know what to do next.

In my experience that often comes when momentum has been lost and things feel stuck.

Last week I found myself leading a board meeting of a group that had, it felt to me, lost all momentum. I genuinely didn’t know what to do as their leader.

I’ve learned over time, though, that sometimes questions are more powerful than answers, so I simply shared where I was and I trusted that the answers would present themselves once we “faced the blank page” together as a team.

I shared that I felt frustrated at the loss of momentum, that I knew I had a historical tendency in such situations to simply step in and do it all myself, but that I didn’t want to do that here, I wanted the team to step up but hadn’t been seeing it. I then shared that all of this had me feeling frustrated and that perhaps it would be best for me to step down and allow others to lead.

This sharing by me dropped the energy in the room significantly, yet somehow putting that ink on the blank page stimulated me to lead by creating a frame for a “what’s next conversation”

At that moment it came to me to suggest that we had three options, then put it to the group to see what they thought the path forwards may be. The three options ranged from closing down entirely, to continuing with the same goals and objectives as before, with the third option being to scale back our lofty goals and focus on something more short term.

All of a sudden, things started to happen. One of the group stood up and started to facilitate, then the group, galvanised, took the lead and agreed on that third option. Together we then ran a couple of interactive exercises (again facilitated by someone other than me) and within a short period of time, we once again had lots of momentum, as well as clarity on where we would focus and next steps.

Sometimes to “just lead” all we need to do is a) ask questions, b) create a frame to operate within then c) trust our team that they will find the answers.

 

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