You can’t lead well unless you are well.
It’s that simple. Almost all the leaders I work with know this. Almost all leaders I work with want to be well. Despite this, many leaders are not well. They are limping in their life and their leadership.
In a previous post I pointed out the similarities between elite athletes and elite leaders. Both need intentional structured periods of time in their calendar to think, pause, rest, and attend to their whole being – a taper – to perform at their best. Peak performance requires a balance between doing and resting, training and competing. Leaders are Corporate Athletes and only perform at their best when they bring their healthy, whole self to their work.
The trap that many leaders fall into is living in a world where being successful in the workplace comes at the expense of being the whole human being they want and need to be. The demands on their time make it hard to do anything other than work. Many executive leaders have fallen victim to the belief that it’s unachievable or unsustainable to attend to their whole self in a meaningful and significant way AND succeed in their leadership. This is the false choice that undermines their leadership and places them at risk for losing much of what matters.
At MEDI Leadership we have the privilege of partnering with many highly skilled leaders. Helping clients learning how to better manage time demands is one of the most common coaching goals we encounter. If you are at a place where you sense a need to change as a leader, hungering for more attention to your whole self, and feel like there’s not enough time to do so, there are some things that can be done. While everyone is different and derives a cadence to their way of being that is unique to them, we find that there are patterns of behavior that foster wholeness consistently among leaders.
Live a story that’s worth your life.
The best leaders know why they are here. They have clarity about their strengths, values, and purpose. That knowledge isn’t born of an epiphany. It is forged through deliberate reflection and self-awareness. They work to intentionally craft a professional vision statement based on self-knowledge, and then tenaciously align their life around that story – whatever it is.
That Story is their North Star. It serves as a template when prioritizing how they spend their time. When lacking this kind of clarity, leaders have no meaningful way of deciding how they distribute their time.
As you all know, time is incredibly precious. It’s too valuable to whittle away aimlessly. So, know your story, find your North Star, and create guidelines for how you spend your time.
Make your calendar reflect who you want to become.
A leader’s calendar is one of the few things that can be controlled. For the best leaders, it reflects what is most important. What is on your calendar today reflects who you will be six months from now.
Schedule time to be who you are and who you want to be. Your calendar should have slots for the things you care about most, not just work. Protect time for a workout, read, or mediate – or whatever is important to you.
If you are curious about what the calendar of the best leaders looks like, consider investing some time in reading or listening to these:
- What Bill Gates Learned from Warren Buffet about Time
- The Leader’s Calendar
- Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
“It’s not a proxy of your seriousness that you fill every minute in your schedule.”
~ Bill Gates
Recognize that time does not come in 60-minute increments.
The best leaders value time down to the minute. Time commitments should be given for the appropriate amount of time, and no more. You don’t need to hold a 60-minute meeting when 20 minutes will do, or five, for that matter. Better yet, don’t even schedule a meeting if it isn’t necessary.
Schedule your time as if it is as precious as it really is.
Be fully present in the moment.
The best leaders do not multitask. They are fully present in the moment, and not just at work. One of my “swamped” clients recently shared with me that his middle school son had his first track practice coming up. My client asked himself, “What is that going be like for him?”
Boom! Beautiful. Pause.
When he picked up his son, being curious pulled him into being fully present in that precious, once-in-a-life-time moment. It was a restorative pause. My client noticed, was intentional, and was present. We all can be present if we choose to be so. Choose it now.
Create Whitespace at Work.
The best leaders have learned that thinking is their best contribution. Creativity, novelty, synthesis, and solutions often emerge in the space between action. Intentionally creating ‘whitespace’ in the cadence of the day, creates windows of opportunity for refreshment, reflection, and revelation.
Here’s a simple option. If you have ‘wall-to-wall’ meetings, make a change. Set the meeting to 45 min instead of 60. Repatriate those 15 minutes for time to pause, reflect, meditate, or be fully present with someone (note: this does not include catching up on email!).
Come to terms with being ‘behind’ at work.
Make it home for dinner. There will always be more work than can be done in a day. While work is part of your story, it is not, nor should it be, the whole story. The best leaders live their whole story.
“Highly successful people know what they value in life. Yes, work, but also what else they value.”
~ Dr. Travis Bradberry
Say “No” – a lot.
Clarity of purpose provides clarity for when to say no and how to say no.
Learn to say, “No” with grace, dignity, reverence and keep the relationship strong. Some great ways to handle such a situation in a respectful and clear manner include:
- “Thank you very much for asking me.”
- “How thoughtful of you to consider me.”
- “I’m humbled and honored to be asked.”
- “What would you like me to set aside so that I can work on this priority now?”
- “I can’t do that now but let me put you in touch with someone who I think would be even a better choice than me.”
Create, cultivate, and cherish a morning routine.
Almost all the best leaders we encounter have a structured morning routine that invariably includes self-care time: meditation, exercise, reading, and relationship. They tend to rise early, tenaciously hold to their routine, and deploy it daily.
Find a routine that works for you. it can be five minutes or fifteen minutes. Build it into your life. Make it a part of your whole person and protect it veraciously.
If you are a limping leader, you can get well. The path to wholeness includes obtaining clarity of purpose, establishing non-negotiable priorities, creating pauses in your life and day, setting yourself free from the to do list, saying “no” often, and being intentional about staying well.
Leading is a way of being. It isn’t something you do.
When leaders understand that the work of physical, mental, spiritual health, rest, recovery, and relationships is leadership work, then it’s easier for them to embrace and sustain a life that positions them to be at their best.
Value your time. You only get to use it once.
You have no choice over how much you get, but you have every choice over how you spend it. If you want to be well, to lead well, then you need to pay attention to your whole self.