Slow down or speed up. What’s a leader to do?

In an era in which profit margins can be thin and shareholder expectations are high, C-suite executives are challenged to achieve greater results within shorter spans of time and with fewer resources. The bar is set high to do more with less.

Achieving more with less requires adept change management skills as leaders seek to meet and exceed expectations. Run faster. Push harder. Achieve more. Do it now.

A few weeks ago I was chatting with a colleague who expressed frustration that her new boss was making changes without seeking staff input. Her co-workers were uniting, not to accept the advocated change, but rather to forge a common bond of opposition to the boss’s agenda. Not good.

This story reminded me of a time when as a leader, I painfully learned the importance of slowing down before you can speed up.

Relationship first, then change

I had been named to a senior leadership role within a multibillion-dollar organization and was recruited to implement strategies for aggressive growth. With fresh eyes, I could see changes that were required to accomplish the desired advances. This was textbook. Complete the project plans. Done. Define implementation plans. Check. Execute the plans. In process. Deliver. Oops! Not so fast.

Everything was going according to plan with one minor exception. The tenured employees were perfectly content with the way things were. They weren’t interested in having some newbie, regardless of title, telling them that the way they were was not good enough. So what happened? They stalled, and so did the plan.

It was suggested that I needed to slow down and get to know the staff. Slow down? You’ve got to be kidding. As a Type A person, the thought of slowing down did not sound like a viable option.

It was at this juncture that I learned one of the most important leadership lessons of my professional life. To be successful, I had to slow down purposefully and build relationships of trust before I could speed up and lead necessary change in short order.

There’s always time for feedback

What else did I learn from this experience that is applicable to today’s leaders? I learned the importance of asking for feedback from staff. I made it my standard operating procedure to pose three powerful questions to direct reports as well as to front line staff:

1. If we could change just one thing to make life better for our customers, what should we change?

2. If we could change just one thing to make your work life better, what should we change?

3. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Slowing down to speed up sounds counterintuitive. Yet taking just a little time to seek feedback from your staff makes them feel valued and can foster the “can do spirit” that is required to accelerate performance within today’s high-pressure leadership environment.

Slow down to speed up? Make it happen today and accomplish more with less, faster than ever.

Janet Meeks is the Co-founder and CEO of Healthcare Alignment Advisors LLC. With 38 years of experience in finance and health care along with extensive service in the boardroom, Janet Meeks is a sought-after adviser to CEOs and other C-suite executives across a variety of industries. She is also the author of the book “Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before,” to be released in early 2018.