We all know that feeling when we wake up overwhelmed about what awaits us at the office.
There are industry standards about what makes a great leader – someone with a shared vision, knowledge and expertise, savvy employee engagement skills, and high emotional intelligence and, and, and … Most of the time, when I do leadership off-sites, 100% of leaders in attendance are committed to greatness when they leave the experience and return to work. That is when the real test begins.
When emerged back into the day to day, it becomes harder to lead, as many hours are spent reacting to fast paced, demanding work environments. Lately I have been thinking about small things we can do every day to lift our heads and lead even when it seems like there is no time or space for such awareness. It is productive and important.
I have used the word STOP as an acronym to help us all remember a few mindfulness practices we can use when we lose control of our day, or even our thoughts, about what is coming:
S: Stand still
Before you enter any meeting, interaction, or shared office space, pause. Everything busy leaders are feeling follows them into a room and makes it hard to be intentional about arriving. Simply stopping, taking three breaths, and quieting yourself physically will change what is to come. Your mood is contagious and one of your most powerful tools when you are self-aware. Ask yourself, “What kind of environment will I create given how I am feeling now?” This is not about changing authentic feelings, but rather connecting awareness of feelings with observable behaviors before entering in to interactions with others.
T: Talk with your desired outcome in mind
It is important to know the outcome you desire when communicating with others. Are your mood and actions aligned with your desired outcome? If not, DO NOT ENTER until you find that alignment because it is unproductive and could even be counter-productive. Ask yourself, “Have I communicated my desired outcome clearly and then trusted others to their work?” It is important to continually revisit your desired outcome so you don’t fall into the micromanaging trap and then eventually “I told them what I wanted and they didn’t get it right so I am going to do it myself.” The power of effectively speaking about outcomes is an opportunity you will have many times a day. Look for those opportunities with excited anticipation and watch how your clarity energize both you and others.
O: Open your heart and your mind will follow
What prevents leaders from opening their heart? Posturing, competition, results orientation, position in company, etc. There are many reasons you may get distracted from what you value most during the course of your day. One of the fastest ways to open your heart and mind as a leader is be aware of how you are feeling when making a decision. If you feel resistance, give yourself time (sometimes seconds is all it takes) to think about where the resistance is coming from. If the decision is in conflict with what you value, think about options. Self-aware leaders know what they value because of how they feel about the decisions they make throughout the day. Values are deep-seated fundamental beliefs you hold. Core values are not aspirational but aligning with them can be …
P: Preserve your energy by managing your pace
Effectively leading in today’s workplace is difficult. Industries and standards shift and change so rapidly that it is almost impossible to stay ahead of the game. Something that can help manage this demanding pace is to think about if the pressure you are feeling is real or imagined. In other words, some leaders turn reasonable workloads into high stress deadlines by not practicing what is outlined above. Centering yourself, setting clear outcomes and having the courage to make values-based decisions will contribute to your ability to manage pace. The people you lead will be more engaged, feel trusted and work harder toward clear outcomes because of your practice. As Ralph Waldo Emerson penned, “The speed of the leader determines the pace of the pack.” Running all the time is not sustainable, necessary, or effective but it is tempting. Awareness is the first step.
It is a practice. One definition of stop is, “to cause an action, process or event to come to an end.” It is a decision and sometimes a very difficult one. Stopping is something self-aware leaders do multiple times a day. The more you practice, the better you get at it, and the less time it takes to ground oneself.
The gift in stopping, even briefly, is you make space to start anew. It is a choice you always have, yet it is so easy to forget. As the Roman philosopher Seneca said, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”