Boardroom Beat #19 - Wanted: White Space
White Space deficiency is a widespread malaise.
* What is White Space?
* Why is White Space so prevalently in abstentia?
* Why does White Space matter?
White Space defined
The semantic roots of white space originate in visual design. “White space” or “negative space” is an intentional design element that balances the composition. The decluttering effect of white space focuses visual attention; It is key to strategic communication. Applied to the human brain, white space is open time that allows clarified focus. It is a time and task blocked vacuum into which deeper strategic thinking flows.
Where does all the White Space go?
Culture and media incessantly message that “busy” is a badge of honor. Corporate group think further rewards “doing” because it may be observed and measured. As a corollary, “thinking” appears the antithesis of “doing.” So, many conform to norms and expectations. Go, go, go! Do, do, do! The overlooked truth is that time scarcity is the arch nemesis of white space. We become too busy doing to pause, reflect, create.
Why does White Space matter?
White space fuels innovation. Access to higher levels of strategy, creativity, and problem solving result from a flow state of deeper thinking connected to mental white space. Hence, a calendar with back to back meetings and a cluttered lifestyle usurp strategic bandwidth. Moving nonstop runs the human engine in overdrive and overheats the motor. Even if the engine does not break down, there are less obvious adverse reactions.
No time or possibility remains for mind opening detours to new destinations. How does lack of white space manifest in an organizational setting? If may show up as burnout or apathy. It may correlate to quiet quitting. In less apparent mode, but insidiously detrimental, it may endorse a culture of “coasting" that disguises as “okay.” Hint - New market share is not wooed and won by “okay.”
One i3 COACHING client became quickly frustrated soon after being recruited by a corporate behemoth to execute on a transformative marketplace vision. She was challenged by curmudgeon stakeholders whose plodding pace impeded progress. She had landed in a company culture where motion ubiquitously imitated action. Activity churn met performance expectations but impeded strategic perspective and progress. Internal stakeholders with key ownership pieces of the transformation vision lacked the white space to co-create and endorse change. Tens of thousands of employees stayed busily complacent as market share eroded.
Finding White Space
Let’s circle back to white space in graphical design context. Micro is space between letters, text lines, and paragraphs. Macro is distance between major elements of composition.
What are your micros?
Some typical ones are emails and meetings. Contemplate:
* What really deserves attention?
* When is “good enough” good enough?
* What are possibilities for leveraging administrative support?
If back to back meetings are unavoidable, schedule them for 45 or 55 instead of 60 minutes. Set 30 minute meetings for 25. At beginning of each meeting confirm the “hard stop.” Use the resulting mini white space windows to breathe, synthesize, take quick action, or take a bio-break. You will be shocked by how less frenzied you are at the end of the day.
Identify what helps you “find your zen.” This is personal; I go into my office before my day begins and make sure climate control is comfortable, water bottle is filled, aromatherapy oil diffuser is on, meeting prep notes are accessible.
Unplug for 15-60 minutes daily with no inbound noise. Nature is my jam, but for you it may be be a peleton, the meeting room no one uses, your car, your meditation. The key is QUIET. I used to listen to audio books or podcasts while on morning trail runs with dogs. When I reverted to silence I had ideas for multiple blogs, updated my Coaching Bio, and created a new coaching partner business model….all in the first week I turned audio OFF.
What are your macros?
- Adding bandwidth via empowerment of your reports?? (While promoting their growth!)
- Knowing when to say “No?”
One C-Level coaching client recently shared the exhaustion of constant 24/7 availability. Further questioning surfaced that other senior leaders “at the table” were respected despite scheduling boundaries for personal time. My client was driven by self imposed standards for excellence to prove worth as a minority female and the most junior C-level.
GOING DEEP TIP/NUDGE
Extend self-reflection beyond “WHAT do I do?” to “WHO am I?” Executive presence increases as white space centers and the nervous system calms.
Gaining white space is easier said than done. Societal mores, corporate culture, and personal limiting beliefs may block progress. It is worth the work. Practicing new behaviors is a feasible path to white space discovery. Repeated behaviors become habits, habits transform attitudes. I admire leaders who exude a stillness that belies the magnitude of their roles and responsibilities. Accessing white space as a personal brand differentiator creates the unique leader who inspires and motivates from a grounded state of reassured confidence and calm, even during times of pressure and tumult. Give your self grace on this journey. Celebrate a first step into the beautiful white abyss.
Author’s Note: I spent many career years showing and telling how busy I was, attaching my self worth to my ability to fit more into a day than other mere mortals. Gaining and maintaining white space is a journey - I remain a traveler. This blog is the byproduct of white space. It practically wrote itself in a flash of inspiration on a nature trail at dawn with my dogs.