Every day, talented and accomplished leaders struggle because they’re too stressed, too stretched or too tired of sacrificing. As a result, many businesses are losing their leaders, and many leaders are losing themselves. They don’t know how to achieve success without sacrificing their quality of life. Fortunately, there is another way to be successful as a leader in today’s world that is more thoughtful, more strategic, and more reflective. In fact, you can learn to lead in a way that preserves your talent while enhancing your quality of life.
Realize that every leader has an inner and outer edge. Your inner edge is the “you” behind the scenes: Your thoughts and motivations, aspirations, plans, decisions, strengths and weaknesses, values, and your way of becoming a success. Your outer edge is the “you” that you show the world: Your words, actions, and your interactions with the people around you.
Parker Palmer, author of A Hidden Wholeness and Let Your Life Speak, illustrates the relationship between our inner and outer selves using a geometrical shape called the Möbius strip—a seamless circle twisted so that as you trace your finger around the loop, the inner side becomes the outer side, and outer turns to inner. Palmer writes:
“The mechanics of the Möbius strip are mysterious, but its message is clear: Whatever is inside us continually flows outward to help form, or deform, the world—and whatever is outside us continually flows inward to help form, or deform, our lives. The Möbius strip is like life itself: here, ultimately, there is only one reality.”
Your inner and outer edges are intimately related. The way you feel influences the way you act. Your actions affect your results. Your results determine the way you experience life. So in order to be effective as a leader and in your life, you need to spend time on both your outer and inner edge. Unfortunately, many leaders concentrate only on their outer edge. They focus on the company vision, mission, results, customers and clients. They tend to the e-mails, the phone calls, the demands, the meetings, the media, etc. Yes, all of that is appropriate and productive in a leadership role, but to be an effective leader, you also need to spend some time on your inner edge where it’s quieter, where you can think, and where you can connect to who you really are so that you can continue to perform at your peak.
Your thoughts and feelings (your inner edge) influence your effectiveness as a leader, and your actions and interactions (your outer edge), in turn, shape your life. And just as your inner and outer edges are intimately related, so are your life and your leadership. The way you lead helps shape your life. The life you live will help you lead. Become a better leader, and lead a better life. And if you don’t pay attention to both outer and inner aspects of leadership, you may suffer a fate common to many leaders: You’ll lose your edge.
The more you focus on the inner edge, the more it becomes a part of your everyday life. To get started on your inner focus, pay attention to the following:
Many leaders are motivated, driven and extremely busy, yet they are still not clear about what they want. What do you want? A promotion? Time for yourself? Better relationships with your friends and family? That ever-elusive work/life balance? None of these are possible unless you stop moving long enough to figure out what you’re after. Explore your ideas. Envision a different reality. In order to achieve success in your life and as a leader, you need clarity about what you really want. That clarity comes from contemplative thought. Therefore, schedule some quite time for yourself each day—even if it’s just 10 min.—so you can develop a clear vision for yourself. Ask yourself, “Who am I as a leader?” “What do I want to achieve?” and “What do I hope to contribute?”
Developing your strategy means choosing the select few areas that you must prioritize in order to achieve your vision. When you follow a strategy, you break out of the cycle of busy-ness that characterizes many leaders. Your strategy serves as a lifeline back to your vision. When you have a clear vision and a strategy to help you achieve it, you know your priorities, you can think about them all at once, you keep them from crowding each other out, and you find new opportunities for them to work together. Overall, when you have a strategy, you show respect for yourself and your work as a leader. You are no longer just managing your workload. You’re leading your life. Ask yourself, “What are the most important things I should be doing right now to achieve the vision I’ve set for myself and my business?”
Time for reflection
When you’re reflective, you are able to identify, maximize and leverage your unique attributes to be an effective, higher achieving leader. The fact is, if you want to be your best, you need to take the time to reflect on what’s brilliant about you. Once you do, you can develop an approach to leadership that uses all of your attributes in the most advantageous way. As a result, you save time, energy and effort. You get better results, because you are doing things in the way that works best for you. You discover what it truly means to achieve success with quality of life, because they become one and the same. Best of all, you do this not by changing who you are, but by becoming more of who you are. Ask yourself, “What’s working?” “What’s not working?” and “What should I change?”
When going after your vision, you have two choices: You can either make things happen or you can let things happen. Making things happen is the active mode. It’s about being rational, strategic, concrete, action-oriented, goal-driven and aimed at results. It’s about forcing things if necessary, and it’s the default mode for many leaders. In contrast, letting things happen is the receptive mode. It’s about being intuitive, trusting, insightful, knowing, optimistic, and open to possibility. On the inner edge there’s space for intuition, which is letting things happen and having enough space and wherewithal to recognize opportunities as they present themselves to you, so you don’t have to work so hard all the time. Ask yourself, “What opportunities are available to me now?” and “What do I instinctively know?”
When you’re in alignment, the “you” in your personal life is the “you” in your professional life. The ideas that apply over here also work over there. You are who you are wherever you are; you are true to yourself. Too often, we separate our work and our life into boxes. We compartmentalize. And while compartmentalizing may work pretty well in a storage room, it’s no way to live a life. You are whole. Take some time to consider all the pieces of your life and business and make sure they all make sense. Ask yourself, “How are the different decisions I’m making all contributing to the vision I have for my leadership and my life?”
The gift of leadership
When you practice the personal leadership strategies presented, you gain a greater sense of self. You achieve your vision and goals, and you do so in a way that fulfills and sustains you. You get a sense of control in this crazy world, and you gain the ability to make choices, take risks, and be the leader only you can be. That’s when you discover that leadership itself is truly a gift.
Dr. Joelle K. Jay is an executive coach specializing in leadership development and the author of The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership, a book that shows leaders how to improve their effectiveness by learning to lead themselves. Her newsletter, The Inner Edge Quarterly, offers articles, exercises, tips, quotes, and success stories from real leaders to help you excel. She may be reached by phone at (775) 324-5377, e-mail email@example.com or visit TheInnerEdge.com.