Leading Through Routine and Stagnation


“Assume more power when situations are stagnant…”  Nate Medina, UC Berkeley, ’18

I am submerged in final papers.  Berkeley juniors and seniors pull together their thoughts after a semester’s course on leadership.  The papers marry their personal experience leading with the theoretical concepts they have gathered from lectures and readings.  Their reflections are universally interesting.  Although interesting in the context of their exciting new adult lives, their papers generate few strikingly new thoughts. Enter Nate’s contribution above. He shared that when his group was languishing in its search for a group leadership project, he jumped in with enthusiasm and vision.  Go Nate!

I read Nate’s paper just as Jennifer and I returned from the first two week vacation since we met 30-plus years ago.  We’re fighting jet lag and inertia. Atmospheric re-entry is slow.  We’re a bit stagnant.  What struck me when I read Nate’s line is that humans – both individually and in groups – routinely get stagnant.  On Monday (and Tuesday and Wednesday and….), we take the same physical path to the coffee machine and the same mental path to our morning work. Dangers lurk:  Disruptive technologies, competitors, shrinking budgets, but still we fall into routine.

Nate’s thought “assume more power when situations are stagnant,” came with ellipses [. . .] at the end, and here’s how he finished his thought:  “and give others the power and help to perform their best.”  Assume more power…and give others the power.” So, what if, in your office today, at a staff meeting or at lunch, you seized the power and brought in a whiteboard to:

  • Identify unnecessary but repetitive work;
  • Ask the question, “What’s changing in our world that we should pay attention to?”
  • Write across it, “LET’S MAKE THIS A GREAT WEEK.”
  • Ask the question, “What’s the most important (or exciting) thing we can get done this week?”
  • Ask: “What are we grateful for around here?”

Kickstart minds through regular routine. Next week I’ll start the thirty-third class on leadership I’ve taught at Cal Berkeley.  I am going to grab some power over my syllabus and shake any doldrums or stagnation, and then share that power, so my students can

Lead with their best self.