Silence is underrated. Many equate silence with an absence of productivity and maybe even laziness, but I would argue that silence and the ability to be comfortable and confident in silence is a significant strength of great leaders and just may be the most productive time of all. For me, silence allows time to think, reflect, appreciate, and be grateful.
Like many of you, I live a fast-paced life with a work and personal calendar that is booked a year in advance. Each December, my wife, Sheri, and I build out the next year’s calendar of personal and business events. We start with all my work conferences, board meetings, and team events. Then we negotiate out vacations, family visits, holidays, and personal adventures. I love adventures that create memorable moments with great people in my life, so Sheri embraces my sailboat racing calendar, ski trips, and scuba diving trips as we place them on the annual family calendar. Generally, by the time we are finishing the calendar, we both recognize we have only a few “free weeks” left for unplanned stuff in our lives.
As I run from meeting to meeting or activity to activity, I think in the back of my mind that I am so lucky to have the ability to do all the things that I clamber through day in and day out. Some days feel rewarding with great accomplishments in my work life. Others bring pride for accomplishments in our family and personal life. Yet, many days can feel like they happened to me after a 10-12 hour work day of 10 meetings and solving challenges that I was not aware of at the beginning of the day. I often feel exhausted. On those days, I remember the best days that I have planned for silence ahead of me.
"For me, silence allows time to think, reflect, appreciate, and be grateful."
For some, silence comes in the form of passive physical activity. It could be sitting and watching a sunset, meditation, or watching an event by yourself. For me, silence comes in the form of an activity. For example, at my core, I love to race sailboats offshore for multiple-day races. I started sailing as a teenager growing up in San Diego, CA. I sailed through high school and college and then started a career, got married, had a couple of kids, and finally started sailing again in my late 30’s. There is nothing quite like it for me as I love the water. I’m intrigued by the wind and enjoy the science behind sailing.
I started sailing and racing again; racing has turned into a passion for me. Sailboat racing is broken into different phases. Once we get through the excitement of the start, find our lane, and race hard through the day, the night phase begins. Nights out in open water are magical. Generally, we are well off of land and out of sight of land and lights. The boat is very dark as we minimize the light on the boat to enhance our night vision. After 30 minutes of almost no light other than the stars and dimmed instruments, it is incredible what you are able to see. The swells that were once not visible, you now see and even hear more clearly. Wind shifts on the water become visible, the reflection of the moon is bright, and the stars look like you could reach out and touch them. The boat also gets quiet at night, as the crew is tired from a long day on the water and will sit on the rail to help keep the boat flat...for hours looking at the sky and the moment comes where I realize that everything else in the world is out of my mind and the calming sense of silence comes over me. It is in these moments that I think most clearly about what is really important, and this clear lens allows the perspective to calmly and unemotionally think through the opportunities and challenges in my life.
"One of the many benefits of silence to me is it allows me to reflect and be grateful for the incredible people in my life."
Many people struggle with silence. It is common to feel uncomfortable with the deep reflection that silence can provide. Others are so comfortable that they fall asleep. I recall a team-building event we did with our office where we spent part of the day in competitive activities to enhance communication and connection, followed by lunch and then an hour session on meditation. One of the guys on our team fell fast asleep less than five minutes into the meditation session and started snoring so loudly that the entire team broke their silence and erupted in laughter. Regardless of how you do it, it is valuable to create moments for silence in one’s life and to understand what that silence looks like for you, which may be very different from that of others.
One of the many benefits of silence to me is it allows me to reflect and be grateful for the incredible people in my life. I have been in the commercial equipment finance business for around 25 years and have funded tens of thousands of businesses around the United States. Some are very large multi-national corporations, and others are small main street businesses where an individual is building their dream. What I have found is that great organizations are rare. We often hear of companies that have achieved various milestones related to growth, valuation, market cap, and earnings. It is far rarer to hear about organizations that inspire loyalty and excellence through service, discipline, and focus over long periods of time. While these attributes may be less sexy in the world of 24-hour news cycles, what it takes to achieve 30 years of success with these attributes is hard to put into words. I can say that it is only possible with great leadership. For the last ten years, I have been the business leader for several bank-sponsored lending programs. During this time, I have been blessed to partner with one of the rare great organizations in Med One. Additionally, I have gained a deep respect and appreciation for what Larry and Brent have built, the talented team they have assembled, and the legacy that continues to the next generation.