Three Keys to Building Leader Resiliency

Juggeling

Resiliency is a hot topic these days. Leaders are “juggling more balls in the air” than ever before and many can’t ever seem to catch up with the pace of life. The impact is that balls end up getting dropped, which leads to increased stress and, ultimately, to leader burn-out. Many think that they can avoid this modern reality by simply learning to manage their time more effectively. While I agree that most everyone can learn to manage their time better, to properly address these challenges requires a more holistic approach. We must also look at how leaders are managing their stress and energy levels.

Time, stress and energy are undoubtedly interconnected and, thus, leaders should learn to excel in all three of these domains in order to maximize their personal effectiveness and resiliency against burn-out. Think about your own experiences. Some days you might be dragging a bit and not able to get your entire to-do list accomplished. Despite your well-managed intentions, it just didn’t happen today. This in turn might lead you to start thinking about all the things you need to catch up with and as your mind starts racing, your stress levels rise. Later that evening, you lie awake at night trying to figure out what to do next, losing valuable sleep and waking the next day with even less energy than the day before. Sound familiar?

So what are some of the things we can do to reduce this self-perpetuating cycle? While there are many techniques that can help, I would like to highlight what I believe to be the single best thing you can do as a leader to increase your effectiveness in each of these domains.

1. Manage your time by practicing “worst first.”

Everyone has something they dread doing throughout the day. Maybe it’s that sales call or perhaps it’s knocking out that admin task that seems like such a waste of time. Whatever it is for you, you always save it for the end of the day. By then you’re exhausted, so you put it off until tomorrow. Get into the habit of doing it first thing in the morning before you take on any other task for the day. Not only will you manage your time better, but you’ll feel less stressed and more energized as you no longer have that monkey hanging on your back.

2. Manage your stress by finding a physical outlet.

Nothing busts through stress like physical activity. Why is that? Because stress lives within our bodies and it has to go somewhere. Yes, it is true that we are responsible for generating our own stress as it stems from our own thoughts (as opposed to the common perception that others are stressing us out). Yet, short of becoming a Zen master and learning to insert mindful behavior to reduce the body’s natural stress response, I have found nothing more effective for limiting stress levels than 30 minutes to an hour of vigorous exercise daily (CrossFit is my favorite approach). Leaders hold their boundaries firmly when it comes to making time to exercise. This means they schedule time on their calendar and protect it accordingly.

3. Manage your energy by maximizing your time off.

Think of your personal energy level as being like a car’s fuel tank; you can only go so long before you need to stop and refuel. Yet, not all fuel is created equal; there are various levels of octane to choose from. If you own a high-performing vehicle, choosing the low grade gas may have significant long term impact on your fuel injectors. Eventually, the car will run sluggishly. You also are a high-performing machine. When it’s time to refuel, put the right stuff in your system. Tempting as it may be, don’t just sit on the couch and catch up on your favorite TV shows. Instead, do the things that bring you the most energy. Maybe you love to travel, or spend time outdoors, or really invest in quality time with your family. Plan your downtime accordingly and you will increase your energy reserves.

Committing to mastering these three skills can greatly increase your personal effectiveness and resiliency as a leader. The key word is commitment. While we all might recognize the benefits of these skills/behaviors, only a handful of us will find the personal discipline to make it our reality. Yet, all new behaviors start with a personal choice. So as we close out the year, what new choices will you make in 2016?

This post is a sample chapter from my new eBook “ACTIONABLE! Leadership: Develop Your Inspirational Ability, Motivate Teams, & Achieve Extraordinary Results.”  Claim your free copy by following the below link and start taking action towards meeting your full leadership potential.

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10 Leadership Lessons I Learned at West Point

West-Point-1The United States Military Academy at West Point is one of the world’s finest leadership laboratories. From the very first day (called R-Day for Reception day) that a new cadet enters into the West Point system, they are immersed in a four-year-long formal leader development process that has been honed through 212 years of experimentation. Twenty one years ago I began my West Point journey and the subsequent four years taught me countless leadership lessons for which I am forever grateful. In this two part series, I have compiled some of the stickiest of these lessons that continue to guide me as a leader today.

1. Don’t point the finger, point the thumb – At West Point, you are taught the first rule of leadership is everything is your fault! While this may sound just a bit harsh, it’s not far from the truth. As a leader you are responsible for all your team does or fails to do. When mistakes happen, one’s natural reaction is often to pass blame on to others or offer excuses. As a new cadet, you are allowed only four responses to questions, Yes Sir; No Sir; Sir, I do not understand; and No Excuse, Sir! This taught us to be accountable for our actions and question our own role in a team failure.

2. A leader is always on parade – Drill and ceremony is a central part of West Point’s curriculum and watching the Corps of Cadets conduct a parade on the hallowed plain of West Point is a sight to behold. 4000 young men and women in their most formal uniforms all marching in complete synchronicity. As a cadet, all eyes are on you to do your part and do it well. It is the embodiment of situational awareness and personal discipline. When in a leadership position— every day is parade day. You are constantly being watched and assessed by your followers. People are counting on you to do the right thing, when it should be done, and without being told to do it.

3. Embrace the suck – Cadet life can be tough and full of irony. The worse the weather, the more you are required to be out in it. No matter which way you have to march, it always seems uphill. You have two choices. Either move towards the struggle and allow it to sharpen you, or let it consume you and break you down mentally. Leaders must do the same with their teams. Worthwhile goals always require an element of struggle and there will be moments when things downright suck for your team. Be a beacon of hope in times of adversity and always be compassionate with follower challenges.

4. No plan survives first contact – One essential skill every officer must learn is the art of planning and communicating orders. Cadets memorize specific frameworks like the 8 Steps to Troop Leading Procedures and the 5 Paragraph Operations Order to assist them in this process. Using these processes, an officer can spend days mapping out the best course of action, gathering intelligence, and synchronizing resources. Yet, real world experience soon teaches us that the enemy always has a vote and plans often fall apart (and quickly). Likewise, strategy will always be an important part of today’s business processes. Yet, the best companies today are adaptable and flexible with their environments. Leaders know when to abandon the plan and nimbly adjust to new circumstances.

5. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care – West Point recruits some of the smartest kids in America. The average SAT score for the Class of 2018 was 1,270 and 82 of the 1,212 admitted were their high school’s Valedictorian[1]. Yet, cadets quickly learn that people follow heart before head. Leaders must be servants to their followers and demonstrate that they are committed to putting the team before self. Competence and intelligence are important, but character defines you.

In essence, great leadership is about demonstrating personal accountability, acting with integrity, proving resilience, embracing adaptability, and embodying a mindset of selfless-service. The good news is that you don’t have to go to West Point to learn these lessons. Anyone can adopt these behaviors and become a better leader. All it takes is choosing to lead differently and a commitment to practice consistently.

(Stay tuned for part two in this series where I’ll explore 5 more Leadership Lessons I learned at West Point.)

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[1] http://www.usma.edu/parents/siteassets/parentwelcomecl2018web.pd

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