Today I will defend the squirrel. Thanks to the movie “UP” we have a new term to describe those moments when we get distracted and off topic. In the movie, thanks to a device around the neck, dogs can talk. One of the main characters, Dug the Dog, talks in simple terms as we would expect a dog to speak. Anyhow Dug is often distracted when he thinks he spots a squirrel. “SQUIRREL!” Dug then has to find his way back on track to what he was originally saying or doing. Yea, good luck with that.
We need to admit to ourselves that we as human beings can and do have our own “squirrel moments” throughout our day. While we are not actually looking for a squirrel, our mind is shouting out to us and wants our attention.
For us as leaders, let’s explore the squirrel moment and work out when it is an issue and when squirrel moments are a good thing. To start, I divide squirrel moments into two categories: (1) Personal and (2) Public.
We all have personal squirrel moments when we drift off our task at hand. Typically this is when we think of something else and follow the thought. Another squirrel moment example is the email notification box and ding we get on our computer at work with each new email received. I swear that if someone filmed me I would have a similar expression as Dug turning my head to look at the new email notification. The solution for these personal squirrel moments is recognition – know what is happening and decide on how best to react. For the random thoughts carry a notebook to jot a note and move back onto task. It is a brave thing to turn off the email notifications at work – but time management experts recommend it. You then regain control and open your email on your schedule. I plan to try this myself this upcoming week. Our minds race all day; call out your personal squirrel moments and gain control.
As for public squirrel moments I consider myself an expert. Often in staff meetings I can go so-called off topic. With my direct staff this is often in our more general update meetings and I consider some squirrel moments as a positive. These can lead to expanded conversations on topics that, while at first do not seem important, lead to positive outcomes. The hunt for the squirrel though can sometimes go deep into the woods and at these points I am glad to hear someone call out “Squirrel” to aid our focus to get back on path. For any leader it is important to build that trust to allow your staff to call out “Squirrel”.
These public squirrel moments though are important to aid our communication. Through these moments we share more of ourselves, demonstrate a safe environment for others to share and at times the distraction leads to something very important to discuss.
While I started this post comparing the behavior or people to that of a dog obsessed with squirrels, we are indeed humans with an ability to communicate at a high level. In future posts I will explore powerful communication approaches for us as leaders. There are times when we need to resolve a specific issue with our team or others in our organization. The strong and effective leader knows how to facilitate these discussions and use the toolbox of “skillful discussion” and even “dialogue” to move us forward to reach solid decisions or powerful new realities.
Another favorite Dug quote for me is, “My name is Dug. I have just met you, and I love you.” Hum, a post for a different day. Have a good day and look our for squirrels, real or imagined.
As a leader with small kids, the “squirrel” reference was right up my alley. I think your biggest line was right here:
For any leader it is important to build that trust to allow your staff to call out “Squirrel”.
I think this is absolutely crucial. Without trust, the squirrel ruins everything.