While there are no easy answers or shortcuts to being a great leader, your focus should always be to stimulate thinking and promote action (or inaction, sometimes). It's tough work.
I recently had a conversation with a leader in a large professional services firm about how he could make his life just a little bit easier, a little less stressful. This list includes some of the things we discussed.
1. Take a time-out every so often.
Whatever provides restorative energy for you, make time for it. Active or passive activities, being alone or with other people, new or familiar endeavors. You must know what you can do to give back to yourself in order to have the resources to cope with the demands of leadership.
Give yourself and others a break by knowing when and where to lead, and when and where to not. Your family and loved ones couldn’t care less about your title and importance.
2. Quiet your inner critic with laughter.
Our inner critic is constant, and we need to calm it in order to see other options. When you hear thoughts of self-castigation and negativity, don’t try to banish them. Accept them, and set them aside by asking yourself for another voice that articulates a different point of view. The key is to find multiple interpretations, and not let your inner critic be the loudest voice.
For example, what can you tell yourself privately to laugh-off the critic and reduce stress and frustration? I had a client who reminded himself that things could be worse at the office by thinking, "At least I’m not wearing a clown costume." A calming non sequitur can help you, and others who look to you, to make clear decisions when times are cloudy.
3. Reach for inspiration.
What matters most to you? What are you trying to accomplish in the deepest part of yourself? If you were to cut corners to achieve this goal and compromise your integrity, what would that do to you? These are questions that point to your values and will help you sift the important from everything else.
In other words, make your inspiration a permanent part of you. What do you breathe in when you really need to show up as a leader? What inspires you and enlivens you with passion? Name it and repeat it when needed. A routine (something you say, think, or do) helps you focus and provides an extra boost, especially at those moments when you don’t want to lead.
4. Ask for help.
By genuinely asking for help, you remind yourself and others that you don’t have all the answers and that everyone needs to pitch in. Many leaders take or keep responsibilities that should be carried by others. What is one item in your portfolio you can turn over to someone else? What should, or could, be completed by someone on your team? And when you make the handoff, see if he or she can also give away something to a member of their team.
5. Accept compliments.
If you accept compliments reluctantly, try saying "Thank you" simply and with a smile. And if you accept compliments badly, with an air of self-aggrandizement, tone it down and try this way.
What other tips make your life as a leader a little easier?