Vice President of Looking Out of the Window

I am off for July. So I’m running some favorite Andy Unedited blasts from the past. This was originally posted October 9, 2007.

The story was a legend in my family when I was growing up.

Once my mom went to have lunch with my dad, who worked as an executive at a company in downtown Minneapolis. When she got to his office she saw him behind his desk with his back turned to the door, looking out the window. She was so impressed by how hard he was working that she immediately elevated him to “Vice President of Looking Out of the Window.”

My dad would always get this wry, sheepish smile on his face whenever we told the story. He never defended or justified himself. He just enjoyed the story along with the rest of us.

So after all these decades, let me now come to his defense. Having been in leadership for over twenty years, I now understand exactly what my dad was doing and why. More than that, I know why it was important, and why it is even more important now than ever.

What was he doing? He was thinking. He wasn’t daydreaming or resting his eyes or just taking a break. He was ruminating over a problem or an opportunity. He was trying to work something out in his mind that didn’t offer an immediate solution. It could have been a strategic issue or a personnel question or something that was relatively insignificant in itself but had political implications within the business. He was thinking.

This may seem self-evident, but leaders and managers need time to think. Sometimes ideas and solutions pop to mind immediately, but even for those with an intuitive bent, this is not always the case. Leaders need to take a step back, to get perspective. Getting focused on the minutia of day-to-day work (important as it can be) can prevent leaders from seeing the big picture.

What may not seem self-evident, however, is that this is more and more difficult with each passing year. The pace and rush of events, information, interactions and decisions continually increase. While e-mail and cell phones have allowed us to get more done faster, it has not reduced our workload. It has only increased the quantity of work to do and the speed at which it is expected to be done. It is all too easy to be overwhelmed.

A number of immediate and longer-term strategies can be employed to restrain this onslaught. It can be as simple as closing your office door or turning off your phone and computer for an hour. If that isn’t practical, once a week you may need to get out of the office with a pen and a notepad and a cup of coffee.

It’s not uncommon for leadership teams to go offsite for a two- to five-day retreat. Why not do the same on your own? I have done this too rarely myself. When I do it can be renewing and stimulating. I don’t always end up with new solutions, but the time to let my mind range more widely than normal is always helpful.

Sometimes, of course, I just sit in my office with my back to the door and catch myself looking out of the window. When I do, I think of my dad.

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.

5 thoughts on “Vice President of Looking Out of the Window”

  1. Bravo! Exellent! Trenchant reflections and observations on one of the most needed commodities in our society today: time to think. More specifically, our civilization and the church in particular needs to address the issue of the mind and its place in the Christian Faith as well as in our daily existence.

    Perhaps the most egregious enormity believers have committed in the past two centuries has been that of refusing to give consideration to the intellect, human mental abilities and capacities. The consequences of this failure are evident on every hand. We have lost the position of leadership in the world in the intellectual, philosophical, educational, political, social, and other realms. We have been sold a bill of goods, namely, that faith is concerned with the heart, never noting that the way to the heart is essentially and primarily through the mind, that the Gospel demands a change of mind based upon reflection, repentance it is called.

    The effort now being made in apologetics to regain the ground lost through adopting the world’s method for biblical studies, the so-called historical-critical approach, is helpful, but it is almost too little, too late. What is required is an avant garde, out-side-the box (and regardless of the humor developing around that often rung bell, there is reason to appreciate what that metaphor suggests). We need, we require, an intellectual approach to Scripture which might well be stated thusly: If the Bible is inspired by omniscience, then we ought to expect that it would reflect a depth of insight and wisdom, an intellectualism, commensurate with that effect. A little over forty years ago I was working on a degree in intellectual history, when that thought occurred to me, a thought cast in terms of a scientific experiment (and note we are too overwhelmed by the success of the scientific method to be able to see its shortocmings and weaknesses and it has them). There are mental and ideological phenomena in the biblical teachings and precepts which enable a believer to become balanced, flexible, crative, and enduring or, in short, an extremely attractive advertisement for the Faith.

    Some of the thinking required is not the stuff of a moment or two of reflection. Often it requires years, long reasoning, rational and logical thought, intuition, sudden flashes of insight, multi-perspective approaches. The old, the new, the wherewithal to grasp and maintain the heart of the issues, such are a part and parcel of any recovery we need and desire.

    Just consider how every biblical and Christian teaching is made up of two apparently contradictory ideas, truths that are revealed and yet self-evident upon reflection, precepts seemingly at variance and yet never meant to be reconciled, but, on the contrary, they are to be held together in a felt and desirable tension in the mind and make up of the believer. This tension is desirable (Paul Halmos, The Faith of Counsellors), for it is what enables and even empowers the believer to be flexible and use either the objective or the subjective approach to the situation that arises in existence, which every approach is appropriate, without feeling he or she has compromised away some basic principle.

    It is noteworthy that in the time of the First And Great Awakenings and the launching of the Great Century of Missions and for some time thereafter, the mental framework of Christian theology that involved the paradoxical, two-sided, apparently contradictory methodology was maintained. Then the process of polarization began, the tension was lost, and the Christian Faith, for all of its outward successes, was in full retreat from its position of responsible leadership.

    Now with all the praying that is beginning to be done for a Third Great Awakening, the idea of paradoxical intervention is beginning to return and with it the insights into the theological ideas of Scripture and their pertinence to the human condition. Is there the possibility of a Third Great Awakening, one which shall win the whole earth and every soul in it and last for a 1000 generations and reach a 1000,1000 worlds (mankind going to the stars) in order to have a fulfilment of the humorous remark in Rev.7:9 of a number of redeemed in Heaven which no one can count (though having all eternity to do it)(and being in the neuter, could God Himself be included, thus making a bit of humor from the Divine Himself?)(and is it not appropriate that this line of thinking should come from one theolog regarded as one of the major sources of limited atonement, John Owen, the old Puritan?)? Gloria in Excelsis Deo!

  2. I’m in agreement with you on all this. Two very fine books on the importance of the mind are Mark Noll’s “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” (Eerdmans) and John Stott’s “Your Mind Matters” (IVP). Maybe there are others you’d recommend.

  3. There are many volumes that could be mentioned, but I am curious as to how we were driven to retreat from the forefront of thought. Have you ever read Carroll Quigley’s Tragedy and Hope ()NY & London: Macmillan pubs., 1965 (?) and his The Anglo American Establishment along with Cleon Skousen’s 100 page review (of Quigley’s Tragedy and Hope) called The Naked Capitalist which was apparently repudiated by Quigley before his death, according to postings on the net? Divide and conquer are tried and proven tactics. You will note the folks of whom Quigley writes have the will and the wherewithal and, whether he denied it or not, he clearly gives the whole ball game away. Most of what is written to explain things is window dressing.Public works, especially the popular ones of the establishment are to be received with skepticism first, second, and third. One of my professors in the distant past was a theoretician for world communism. I am afraid, without a Third Great Awakening our futures are very bleak as to success. Perhaps on the other side of a very bloody divide, c’est la view.

  4. I’m not familiar with Quigley’s Tragedy and Hope. Thanks for the recommendation.

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