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Managing in the Maze

Have you found yourself bogged down in the weeds? Does your life’s progress seem like a wash, rinse, repeat cycle?

If you answered yes to either of those questions, you are living life and managing your efforts in a maze. Here’s what maze managing means.

Living in the Maze
Living in the Maze

Imagine a big, even giant maze. You know, like the ones you saw in the grade school coloring books, where you tried to draw your way from start to finish. You followed a few paths only to learn that they were dead ends. You went back to the start and try new direction, but bump into another dead end.

You work countless combinations of turns and angles, possibly covering all corners of the maze, yet you never get to the finish. The bigger the maze, the harder it was to find the solution. If the lines were very small, it was even harder.

Life and business can be that way. When a new chapter of life starts or a new job is begun, you don’t see the end. You have to turn and twist your way, day by day, trying to achieve some level of success.

Hard work and dedicated effort can feel like you are making progress, but then as you make the next turn, you realize you’ve reached a dead end. Sadly, the result may come after years of work.

Managers and executives often find themselves giving in to life in the maze. All of the facts and forces around you say “walk the maze”. You start thinking that is the only way to get through to your goal.

The best leaders I have known acknowledge the maze, but find ways to rise above the grind of living in the maze. This is where and how having leadership vision becomes important. Leaders can see the way forward despite clear obstacles in the way. They don’t merely overpower the obstacle, but they design a plan to go over, around, or through the maze.

I like to think of this as leading out loud. When others around you give in to maze thinking, you have to get their attention. As a leader, you can provide inspiration about coming out of the maze and reaching the other side. You can steer the discussions, shape ideas, and be the guide, showing them the way out of the maze.

Here’s the Catch

You too can be subject to maze thinking; getting stuck in the maze. The repetition of working through things can wear you down. You can lose sight of your own vision. Clarity can turn to fog.

Leaders have to develop their own mechanism for fighting this kind of battle fatigue. Here are three ways I have found to be effective.

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I love this word “re-calibration”. In a finely crafted mechanism, there are gears that can get out of sync from time to time. The constant turn of the wheels causes settings to loosen, alignment to shift, and sprockets to rattle. The whole system needs to get re-calibrated to reset the alignments, tighten the settings, and perhaps lubricate the gears.

Those of us in leadership need that too. We get rattled and thrown off our game. You have to allow yourself some time to re-calibrate. You may need to do this several times a year. I make it a daily habit to find a little quiet time to pause, reset, and refocus.

Re-calibration includes connecting with core values, reflection on who you intend to be, and honest analysis of your progress toward goals and priorities.


Ideas and methods can fade. The testing of time can cause an old idea to become irrelevant. You have to renew your thinking. Renewal also serves to keep us from getting stuck in a bull headed mindset.

If your trusted advisors have repeatedly encouraged you to change course, then maybe you need to change course. But you cannot do that objectively without your own period of renewal. Renewing your mind and heart can keep things fresh.


Enduring stress and pressure for extended periods of time requires recovery. Just like intense workouts at the gym require your body to recover, your mental and emotional faculties need recovery too. You have to afford yourself some time to recover from the pressure of being in leadership.

The science of recovery in our bodies gives us good examples of what can happen. See my prior post. Just like perpetual sessions at the gym actually become counter productive without rest, our leadership performance suffers too from the lack of recovery.

Get Above the Maze

Rather than struggling to live your life in a maze, leaders find ways to overcome the maze mentality. The first step is recognizing you have gotten stuck in the maze. As you go about performing your leadership duties, be mindful of the three disciplines I recommend for maximizing your resilience and effectiveness.