How to Nurture "Awe" for Leadership Innovation and Insights


Kruse, Kevin

March 28, 2013

Where do you get your biggest ideas?

What are you doing when you suddenly think of the solution to an impossible challenge?

It’s unlikely you do your best thinking while thumbing through 100 emails on your smart phone. It’s unlikely you get an “aha!” while sorting your ridiculously long, carefully sorted to do list.

In her Leader to Leader article, “Awe: A Doorway to Breakthroughs, Insight and Innovation,” Betty Shotton says, “Wise leaders know when to step away from distraction and noise and make room for the expansive thoughts and ideas that a state of awe can generate.”

Shotton defines “awe” as a state of being “in which time is suspended, when we feel a deep reverence and respect for creation…a condition in which truths, hidden from our consciousness by the sheer weight and volume of our responsibilities as leaders, are made visible.”

Too many leaders are task-focused problem-solvers who let their schedules fill up with emails, phone calls, meetings, requests and presentations. Too many of us try to decompress with still more gadgets, TV, alcohol and the distractions of busyness.

Shotton suggests making room for “awe openers” including:

  1. Art
  2. Nature
  3. Quiet

As a serial entrepreneur, writer and Dad to three kids, I’m constantly time challenged and must admit that chasing “awe” to tap the “knowledge of the universe” sounds a bit impractical and a little too new-agey. However, upon quiet reflection—yep, quiet reflection—I must agree that most leaders could benefit from less doing and more being.

As I’ve gotten older and hopefully wiser I increasingly make time for mindfulness. Having my coffee on my deck overlooking the woods instead of scanning the newspapers at the kitchen table. Keeping the radio off while driving. Sitting and looking—really seeing—an old photograph or piece or artwork as if it were new.

Not everybody is able to take off to an island retreat, or find the time to take up painting, but we all have the ability to slow down, be mindful and be reflective. As Susan Jeffers was known for saying, if you can’t take a holiday, can you schedule a holi-hour?

Great leaders know that new ideas and insights don’t come while being head down and task focused. Great leaders know that answers and ideas bubble up into our consciousness when we slow down, when we are focused on other things, and yes, when we are in awe.

You can read Shotton’s full article, here.


Kevin Kruse is a NY Times bestselling author and keynote speaker. His new book, Employee Engagement 2.0, teaches managers to turn apathetic groups into emotionally committed teams. Get exclusive leadership advice and more from his newsletter at

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