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Performing Is Not Fast

If you enjoy watching Wimbledon tennis, you already know this to be true: No athlete who wins Wimbledon made it to the winner’s circle fast. Serena Williams won first place in both singles and doubles in 2016. It was her 22nd Grand Slam title and her 16th Grand Slam doubles title. Her age? 35 years old.

When did Serena start playing tennis? Age 3. When did she turn pro? Age 14. First Wimbledon win in 2002, age 23. Today, Serena Williams is undoubtedly one of the greatest female tennis athletes of all time. But I can’t imagine that she would say, “winning came quickly.”

Leaders – take a lesson from Serena. If you want your team and your enterprise to be wildly successful, expect it to take some time. Expect long hours of preparation and practice. Expect to learn from trial and error. Expect trust and talent to grow with time. Expect slow.

This is incongruent with all the messages you will hear from popular culture. We live in a world focused on speed, urgency, and efficiency. Go faster, cut corners, and make it happen!

Author Carl Honore, in his book In Praise of Slowness, challenges us:

“Of course, speed has a role in the workplace. A deadline can focus the mind and spur us on to perform remarkable feats.  The trouble is that many of us are permanently stuck in deadline mode, leaving little time to ease off and recharge.  The things that need slowness – strategic planning, creative thought, building relationships – get lost in the mad dash to keep up, or even just to look busy.”

When I read this paragraph, I found myself pausing over and over again on those words–“The things that need slowness…”

Strategy needs slowness. Charting a bold, daring course of action for the company or the team requires thoughtful work. The leader must stop rushing around and get away from the noise – so that they can reflect on the marketplace conditions, look at the analytical findings, read some alternative viewpoints, consider the future possibilities. You don’t want to rush to strategy. Strategy is the firm foundation of the business plan. If it is hurried and sloppy, it might yield short-term success – but it won’t stick and yield consecutive quarters of winning performance.

Innovation needs slowness. Too often, people think innovation is just a plethora of creativity. But instead, innovation is a process of creating and evaluating many ideas over a long period of time – to ensure the truly inspired few win in the marketplace. When I led Popeyes, our innovation team created 80+ new food ideas every quarter, and then through rigorous testing winnowed them down to the one idea that performed superbly in the marketplace. That meant creating 320 ideas to get 4 wins in the year. It was this commitment to a continuous process of creativity that led to year after year success.

People need slowness. Lasting, deep relationships need time to develop. Efficiency works with widgets, not humans. We know this in our personal lives – why wouldn’t it also be true at work? Stephen M. R. Covey says, “The first job of the leader is to inspire trust.” Trust requires demonstrated competence and character over time. Trust requires evidence that the leader genuinely cares for the people. You can’t rush trust. But once established, high trust organizations outperform all the rest. With people, you must go slow if you want top performance.

So in this hyper, stressful, warp-speed world where you work – remember this. The most important things you do as a leader need slowness. Give the strategy, the ideas, and the people a bit more time. Allow greatness to develop. And when you do, you will be rewarded by superior performance results.

Serve well.

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