Leadership Mile-High Club

I’m sitting on the plane, coming home from a short week away with a client. The vantage point from up here is unreal – far out my window I can see the tips of the Rockies, and immediately underneath us the brown earth slides by. Besides the fact that I am continually amazed (and a tiny bit anxious) that I’m flying in a metal tube thousands of feet above the ground, I am in awe of the perspective I get from this height. And the perspective comes not only the vastness of my view, but the fact that I get a brief time-out-of-time from our plugged-in world.

While it is a bit of circumstance that is forcing me to take best advantage of my time in the sky, this ‘white space’ is useful (probably even more so) when I’m in the chaos of my life on the ground.

As a leader, it’s a art and a skill to be able to step above the day-to-day, to be able to both observe and assess what you see happening in your interactions, your team, your company and your career. In The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, Heifetz, Grashow and Linsky say: “To diagnose a system or yourself while in the midst of action requires the ability to achieve some distance from those ‘on-the-ground’ events.” This distance and perspective leads to informed action, rather than unconscious reaction.

And you don’t have to be in plane to put these leadership practices in place:

Balcony View: This in-moment perspective requires the ability to observe your interactions, the impact you’re having, and the quality of conversation. Leadership is an everyday practice, and not distinct from strategic business conversations. How you show up in the immediate is what makes up your leadership essence. To have the impact you want means being able to both observe and act simultaneously.

Make it a habit:

  • At the end of every meeting, check in with yourself: did I show up the way I wanted to? What was my leadership impact? How do I know?
  • Check in with the team: how would everyone rate the quality of the conversation? Did we defend and declare or pause and inquire? What worked and didn’t work with how we engaged with each other?

Strategic white space: Ever noticed how one minute your calendar is blissfully empty and the next it’s completely full of meetings, phone calls, operational deadlines? If you’re not intentional about giving yourself some white space – that time away from the day-to-day where you can have a longer-term perspective – your day-to-day time just fills up.

Make it a habit:

  • Book time at least once a quarter to step away from your day-to-day to look more strategically at your leadership and your business. Ask yourself: Am I leading my team in a way that gets the best out of them? What challenges and opportunities do I see on the horizon? What’s it going to take from me and my team to overcome these challenges and seize the opportunities?
  • Check in with your customers: What trends am I seeing in customer expectations? How can we best meet customer needs? How can we stay two-steps ahead of what our customers want?

Periods of complete disengagement:  Self-care is one of the most overlooked leadership advantages. When you are at your best, your team is too… And the reality is as much as you try to convince yourself otherwise, working endless hours, day-in and day-out is not conducive to your best self.

Make it a habit:

  • Take vacations. Even though it can seem pointless – working crazy hours to get ready to leave, and crazy hours to catch up when you’re back – the complete disconnection from work is what allows you to come back with refreshed energy, perspective and mental focus.
  • Turn your e-mail off every once in a while. Companies managed to survive (and even thrive!) before the days of the digital… a few hours of inaccessibility isn’t going to end the world.
  • Spend time doing things you love… and if you looooove work, spend time doing OTHER things you love. Time with family, laughs with friends, adventures in the woods… do things that feed your soul. Then your soul has more to give.

As I start the slow decent into Vancouver, I’m thankful for this reflective time I’ve given myself. Come join me in this leadership mile-high club, take some time-out-of-time to reflect and think – and let me know if it makes a difference for you.

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One thought on “Leadership Mile-High Club

  1. Erin – I couldn’t agree more. White space helps to provide for perspective, so essential to Leadership (and everyday living). And disengagement feels like disconnecting in one area to create space to connect in others. And to ultimately create what “balance” means for you in your own life – personally defined.
    Thanks for the reflections.

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