Leadership Insights by Kathryn Pollack
A highly challenging task combined with a high level of skill is more likely to result in a state of flow. That being said, to be in flow, we need to believe that what we are trying to achieve is doable, or else we risk moving into a state of anxiety.
What comes to mind when you think of the word "flow"?
It might make you think of a calm and peaceful moment, some people would even suggest that it is a state of being passive.
For me, flow is energy, and it makes me feel energetic. Flow is about being in the moment, completely immersed in the present, and using your gifts to their full potential. It's about being completely engaged, often in the process of creating something new. When we are in that moment, we connect to an inner state of effortless and spontaneous action.
Think about a time when you experienced flow. I'm hoping you remember a deep sense of inner clarity where purpose is aligned with action. There is a timelessness about being in flow which is connected to presence and mindfulness. Flow inspires in us a sense of intrinsic motivation and leaves me with a feeling of fluidity. I can adjust, adapt and respond easily to whatever shows up, and I am enough (grace).
While in my career as a professional artist, I spent the vast majority of my time in flow. It wasn't until I was well into my corporate career that it became apparent to me how few people have had the opportunity to experience flow in the workplace. I love this quote by Masura Ibuka from the first "Purposes of Incorporation" for Sony:
"To establish a place of work where engineers can feel the joy of technological innovation, be aware of their mission to society and work to their heart's content."
The author is talking about flow - about engineers being in flow. Side note for doubters: Flow isn't just for artists.
As leaders, wouldn't we all love our people to be in flow?
Our workplaces would be more engaged (intrinsic motivation) leading not only to full role performance, but also discretionary effort. We all know where this leads; RESULTS!
We can't reach a state of flow without some level of mastery in our work; think Outliers and the 10,000 hour rule. Researchers have found that people must be very well trained in their work and have developed strong technical skills in order to reach a state of flow. At the same time, we need a high level of challenge in order to achieve flow. A highly challenging task combined with a high level of skill is more likely to result in a state of flow. That being said, to be in flow, we need to believe that what we are trying to achieve is doable, or else we risk moving into a state of anxiety.
It's not possible to be in flow all of the time, but we can increase the amount of time that we and others in our workplaces spend in flow, everyday:
- Know your unique gifts and invest in strengthening the skills that support your talents.
- Play to your strengths by finding work or seeking out projects that leverage your unique gifts.
- Leaders, use assessment tools that focus on personal strengths to establish common language and understanding within your organization. Utilize strength assessments in annual work plans, team discussions and while establishing project teams to give employees the opportunity to leverage their strengths and to build multi-disciplinary teams.
My personal definition of success is contributing to work that cultivates happiness and fulfillment and helps others at the same time. When I have found that, I have found flow.
Here's to finding our flow, often!
Kathryn Pollack is a keenly attuned and accountable senior leader who believes in bringing your whole self to each moment and everything you are to all that you do. Learn more about Kathryn here.