The nature of leadership is resistance and change.
A constant struggle to bring ideas and opportunities to life and overcome a myriad of obstacles in order to achieve goals which, once achieved, will be replaced by a new set of goals with many of the same challenges. Even if we by nature love the role of leadership, this perpetual cycle can wear us down over time, sapping our creative energy and our joy.
As evidence to this reality, we can observe hundreds if not thousands of articles, blog posts, videos and social media comments in the coming week that will offer various approaches and solutions to all the complexities leaders face. Not only are we confronted with the daily struggle to understand, prioritize and act on the many decisions we will face, but we also have the nagging worry about whether we are “doing it right” in light of our own high expectations those of our bosses, peers, and followers. The pressure can be enormous at times, but more often it is the compound effect of these constant daily struggles that puts us on edge.
How do we deal with this ceaseless demand on our mental and emotional energy and the stress it induces?
As human beings, our first inclination is to either escape, withdraw or act out in an effort to avoid or deflect our discomfort. While this approach may provide some short-term relief it will, over time, add to the problem. It is important to remember that this is a natural temptation. To judge ourselves for being human only makes matters worse. Most leaders have a deep desire to do good work, make a positive impact, care for their team and excel in their mission. Yet these noble intentions alone will not sustain us.
Learning to lead lightly is a series of practices that can help us manage our energy and act in alignment with our best intentions.
- Care for your body – Get adequate sleep, exercise regularly and eat healthy foods. This is the source of your physical energy and provides the capacity to follow through on other actions that will serve your leadership effectiveness.
- Care for your mind – Learn to relax and quiet your mind through meditation and practice putting your mind into a positive state at the beginning of each day. Take the time to expand your mind through reading, journaling and reflection.This is the source of your mental energy and focus.
- Put first things first – Using your time effectively and focusing your attention on the things that matter most rather than the multitude of distractions that offer themselves to you throughout the day will help reduce your worry and frustration. Even what seems like a mindless detour can sap the energy that you need for more important tasks. This allows you to use your energy effectively and feel positive about the contribution you are making.
- Learn to be curious – Try approaching the events of the day as a curious observer with an open mind. Make it your intention to see what is unique about each situation and allow yourself be patient and observe before you act. Have fun with it if you can. This allows you to move with rather than resist the challenges of the day.
- Keep your perspective – Remember that the vast majority of situations you will face are not life or death, (though people around you may be freaking out). Your body may, at first, tense up and your mind may overreact to the story it creates but when you pause to remember the big picture and what really matters you can move into a more helpful state of mind. This allows you to avoid burning energy on an imaginary crisis.
- Let others in – Talking things through with another person, sharing the burden and hearing a different point of view can help you recalibrate and center your thinking so that you are better prepared to make decisions or take action. This is how we tap into the energy of our team and renew our capacity.
- Choose your words – How you describe your experiences will have a direct impact on how you feel about them and the way you will react. You can choose to be fascinated instead of frustrated or see an opportunity instead of an obstacle. It may sound overly simplistic, but words do have power. Your mind and body will respond to the way you frame the situation. This allows you to channel your energy in a constructive direction.
- Show yourself compassion – You won’t always get it right, respond appropriately or choose wisely and that’s ok. Beating yourself up will not help the situation and will burn a tremendous amount of energy. Treat yourself like a good friend. Offer yourself some wise counsel, give yourself some encouragement and then move on. This allows you to channel your energy into learning and growing.
- Laugh and smile – Life is short and work consumes a big chunk of our time. There is no reason we can’t enjoy ourselves in the process. When we laugh and smile our energy is renewed. Sometimes it’s the absurdity of the things that make us upset that can provide the best moments of humor. This gives us a natural energy boost during the day and helps us renew a positive mindset.
- Commit an act of kindness – Around us every day there are people who need encouragement, support or a kind word. If you want to boost your emotional energy and give yourself a lift, lift up someone else. It’s tempting to be too busy or too focused to stop and be there for someone else, but that moment may be just the spark that energizes the rest of your day and makes it all feel worthwhile. This is a constant source of renewable energy and best of all it is energy that spreads to others.
Much of the burden we shoulder as leaders is self-imposed. By learning to lead lightly, we can be more available to the people we serve and sustain the emotional, mental and physical energy we need to meet the demands of our work.