Raising Your Leadership BarArticle by Maynard Brusman, October 23, 2019
Raising Your Leadership Bar
In today’s breakneck corporate culture, many leaders have redefined their success. Merely keeping up with the chaos has become an acceptable goal. The trend in organizational management is to focus on staying afloat and ponder the future if time allows. The common theme is do more with less.
Unfortunately, this attempt to enhance the profit picture as much as possible has created unprecedented levels of stress, dysfunction and disappointment for leaders. The time leaders can afford to spend on their leadership skills and personal growth, as critical as these areas are, seems to shrink every year. Leaders are under increasing pressure to make their companies all they can be, with little time taken to making themselves all they can be.
The most successful leaders use sound approaches to assess their work and determine what they can do to improve what they do. They understand that their company will prosper if they personally prosper as an effective leader with the best approach, ability, mindset and stability. How they go about raising their personal bar is the key.
What’s Your Perspective?
If chaos is the norm for you, have you ever contemplated how you can change that? Perhaps a more basic question is: do you recognize the detrimental effects that chaos has on you? The most effective leaders have learned to step back, even if only briefly at first, to assess their leadership situation: their career, influence, personal growth and satisfaction. They ask themselves important questions and try to find answers:
- What are the things in my role that I should continue doing?
- What are the things in my role that I should change?
These are prominent concerns all leaders should address, according to leadership expert and author Peter Bregman in, Leading with Emotional Courage: How to Have Hard Conversations, Create Accountability, and Inspire Action on Your Most Important Work (Wiley, 2018). These areas are foundational in developing the character, skills and desires to lead well.
Other related thoughts:
- What would it look like if you became all you could be?
- What’s keeping you from getting there?
- How best can you alter the things that are holding you back?
- What character traits are worth developing in this endeavor?
Leaders who deliberately find time to explore these areas are richly rewarded. They grow in their abilities and value, make more use of the skills they have and enter new avenues of opportunity and success. Find a way to schedule more time for these kinds of thoughts. A seasoned executive coach is an excellent resource to guide you through this process. Few leaders see things objectively enough when dealing with their inner workings. A second set of eyes spots things you can’t.
Leaders make the most progress in self-development by cutting through the clutter, looking at the big picture and making basic, yet profound adjustments. This may require courage, patience and determination.
Bregman suggests four fundamental categories that leaders can examine to enhance their mindset, value and purpose:
Find a Clear Theme
Clarity is the ability to see things as they are with an accurate perception and understanding. It’s a freedom from uncertainty or confusion. It’s the skill to grasp fundamental truths and distinguish false alternatives. Clarity of mind stands as a basic framework to hang other usable skills, and successful leaders learn how to find it.
According to Bregman, one of the most distinguishing character traits successful leaders possess is clarity. This encompasses not only reaching a state of clarity, but continuing to embody it. In other words, providing clarity to others is just as vital as establishing it within yourself. After all, what is the point of a leader being clear if no one else benefits from it?
In the effort to be all you can be as a leader and determine how to move forward, you need to assess your recent performance and frame your effectiveness. Ask yourself what things went well. Just as important, ask what kinds of things did not go well. Putting together an historical picture helps to reveal patterns. The next step is to discern common causes for the things that did not go well. The goal is to find a personal theme behind it all, as Bregman suggests.
You may find your theme to be similar to these:
- Emotions get in the way of clear thinking and reasonable responses. When I have calm responses rather than emotional reactions, outcomes are much better.
- Overthinking makes things more complicated. When I break things down into simple compartments, solutions are more effective and longer lasting.
- Rushing to conclusions with impatience takes me down terrible paths. Taking a more deliberate approach, dealing with one step at a time, yields a better understanding and thus better decisions.
Your theme determines the corrective action needed to reverse the affects you don’t want to see. Make it your ‘theme for clarity”. Let it be simple, doable and easy to remember. Make it your focus every day. For example, if your theme is to slow down, practice slowing down. A deliberate awareness will become an automatic state of mind. Be all you can be by finding your best self-improvement theme.
Sharpen Your Focus
In a fast-paced environment, it’s difficult to think about the future and where you want to go. Understanding what your future looks like and how to reach your full potential requires dedicated, undistracted thought. It requires a sharper focus on the things that matter down the road.
Preparing for the future should be a thoughtful and optimistic matter. Time must be dedicated to evaluating the possibilities and potential. This means that you’ll need to split your time between current tasks and potential or future tasks. This doesn’t necessarily mean an equal split, but some kind of proportionate division, dependent on the circumstances. It comes down to deciding what to let go of in order to focus on the future.
Bregman is keen to point out that this is difficult for many executives, not because of time constraints as much as the common paradigm that non-essential tasks are not productive and have no apparent return. The culture has us convinced that only the tasks that provide a quantifiable return (and quickly) are worth pursuing. Leaders who’ve become all they can be know this to be untrue.
Future goals are gradually achieved by working in ways that, on the surface, have no short-term rewards, but in principle have great long-term payback. This includes networking and building relationships, daily writing or journaling, learning new personal skills and reading. The key is to continuously improve yourself and your prospects while understanding that these activities may not support your immediate role. It requires a renewed focus and dedication.
Be More Intentional
Leaders are busier than ever and have no energy to spare. Bregman reminds leaders who want to be all they can be that they need to be strategic about their time and energy. They must be productive, and that requires optimal focus and effectiveness. Being fatigued makes this much more difficult. Leaders can’t be busy just to be busy. Their time must count.
An intentional approach focuses on the most beneficial areas, and thinking can be one of them. You find what matters most by recognizing that the things bringing you the most joy are just as important as the things bringing the organization the most benefit. The intention is to pursue both.
Joy is important to grow and refresh. It permits you to apply yourself and have a positive perspective in your role. A significant aspect of finding joy is to let go of the things that annoy, frustrate or drain you. Many leaders find doses of refreshment by letting emails go for a while. Take a step back from time to time and let go of worries.
Many leaders get worn down by wasting their time. Ineffective meetings, reports or trips take their toll. Make note of how you spend your effort, and you’ll see how much of it could be more fruitful. Make an intentional decision to change this as much as you can by revising your routine, commitments and habits. How can you reduce frustration and increase joy?
Do you spend too much unproductive time on the internet? Are all the meetings you attend necessary? Eliminate time wasters, but don’t obsess over it. If you want to reach your maximum potential, you must be intentional about your goals and the methods you’ll employ to achieve them.
Balancing Work and Life
Our culture has brainwashed us into believing that our occupations determine our identities and our productivity indicates our value. Breaking this unfortunate mindset is a struggle for most leaders.
Technology facilitates this myth. Leaders can be accessed virtually everywhere, whether they are on company property or not. As Bergman rightly observes, the workplace is now everywhere. We can’t escape the demands and expectations put on us. The boundaries between work and personal life are gone. Leaders battle this boundary invasion, and their debased sense of value bleeds over into home life, where none of the work-related demands should be.
Leaders who’ve become all they can be have decided that their role at work is important, but not all-defining. They’ve learned to sense self-worth in all aspects of their lives: with family, friends, activities and personal growth. Their resulting joy and satisfaction help them to engage in all that they do with optimism and effectiveness. The key is not necessarily dividing their lives into work and non-work time, but finding a way to balance them such that they complement each other.
Time management techniques at work can reduce the in-office demand and open up more non-work time. Establish a routine that helps you cover more bases in less time using the resources and staff available to you. Think ahead, anticipate demands and plan for multiple situations. This can reduce your stress and let you be fresher for the office and at home.
Similarly, more joy at home allows you to be more positive and fruitful at work. The most well-rounded leaders have found ways to enrich their relationships and activities at home, bringing more pleasure to life. Your family deserves more from you than what’s left over from what your employer takes. Many leaders have found that a richer work life is built on a foundation of a richer personal life.
Save your sanity and energy and bring a fresh approach to each day. If you balance the aspects of your life, you’ll have a more fulfilling identity and a richer purpose. These are the best paths to becoming all you can be as a leader.
Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist & Executive Coach
Trusted Leadership Advisor
Professional Certified Coach (PCC), International Coach Federation
Board Certified Coach (BCC)
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Tags: emotional intelligence, executive coaching, leadership development, mindful leadership