My last blog post about the untimely death of my friend Chandra was one of the most read articles on my site. I suspect the lessons from her life spoke to more than just black women leaders, particular the last lesson around self-care.
Later on the day I published that blog article, I received a call from a dear friend’s husband. My friend and I supported each other while we both worked on our doctoral degrees some twenty years ago, yet she was more a mentor to me. She too had been diagnosed with cancer. She, like my friend Chandra, had let me know about her diagnosis in September. Her husband was calling to let me know the family had put her in hospice care. She, being the quintessential leader that she was, in the midst of her transitioning, made her family face the reality of her imminent demise. She led the discussion of her final arrangements. Thus her husband’s call to me.
I had dinner last evening with a client—a woman a little younger than me in a significant leadership role in her company. The company is in a growth period, but staffing levels have not kept up with this growth and everyone, it seems, in this company is overworked. During one significant project period my client worked twelve straight days. And she typically works 55 hours a week. I shared with her last week’s blog article. I assured her that, though I wrote this particular blog article to give tribute to black women’s leadership, the lessons are salient for all women, including her, a white woman. She, like both of my friends, is also a woman of faith. I then mentioned the status of this current friend being placed in hospice. As we ate dinner and chatted, I reminded her of the need to slow down. Deep inside, I’m sure she knows this. It’s always the cognitive and behavioral changes that are hardest, especially when we have developed patterns that are just too hard to break.
Early this morning, I received notification that my mentor-friend had made her transition. It is way too soon for me to write about her, but I will. Eventually.
In the meantime, here’s what I have learned: Life is too short to sprint through it. We have been placed here to live life to the fullest and there is little fulfillment in this life when we are too tired to enjoy the fruit of our labor.
Here are nine tips I’ve learned to incorporate, though imperfectly, into my life, that have enhanced my leadership. Why? Because these life strategies have enhanced me as a leader. I lead from within. The sisters of my church and I created a journal to remind us of these principles:
S spiritual disciplines of solitude, silence & Sabbath.
At its core leadership really is a spiritual act of bringing meaning, guiding people, calling forth the best out of people and systems. Leaders who will do the best will not only recognize the purposefulness of leadership, they will also recognize their need to restore spiritually. Some management gurus have written about this, though most omit the spiritual vocabulary, many more privilege the “bias for action,” instead of developing a rhythm of work and rest; rest and work.
We are not “energzier bunnies” with long-lasting batteries. Real leaders have souls and need time to restore their hearts and heads. Real leaders need to spend quiet time reflecting. We need time to spend with our families and friends, enjoying each other company. We need time to not do anything.
I have incorporated a weekly time off from work. Client work. Church work. I have to flex what day of the week I use, and when I miss it, I feel it. The first thing I had to change in my scheduling of weekly Sabbath time into my life, was my mindset. I had to change my thinking that my world would fall apart if I didn’t get everything I had set out to do that week so I HAD to work on my scheduled day off. But doing so also helped me take on less, delegate more and become far more reasonable in my own expectations.
There are so many great resources out now on incorporating Sabbath principles into our lives. The principles are timeless, eternal and not confined to any one faith tradition.
L less busyness
The performance driven culture in which we live and work seduces us into a constant flurry of busyness.
Professionals are rewarded for the number of projects completed and sales closed, driving them to longer and longer hours. The ritual in the work world is to lament to coworkers about long, demanding hours in a one-ups game to see who is the busiest, and by extension, who is perceived to be the most important.
As one of my former staff members said as he saw me constantly running through the hallways of my former workplace to get to the next meeting. “Jeanne, slow it down. This work will still be here. And when you are dead and gone from keeping up this pace, they will have a service and some donuts and coffee for your relatives, and then they will keep it moving.”
Remember we are human beings first and foremost, not human doings. Busyness is not the same as business.
O opened heart to God’s heart.
I know some of you who read this blog are not necessarily religious in the traditional sense of the word. But this tip is my way of reminding you to pay attention to your heart. Keep your finger on the pulse or the heartbeat of your leadership.
I believe too may of us end up running through the hallways of our work places or running through our ever expanding to do list, almost like the hamster on the little circular treadmill. In so doing too many lose sight of our calling, our passion for the work that once energized us. Too many lose passion for the people who once inspired us. Take some time and get in touch again with your heart’s desires.
W waiting on the Lord
Waiting? Waiting in our culture has come to mean doing nothing. The myth of our leadership culture is that leaders can’t do nothing. That’s unheard of! Leaders have to have a bias for action—take charge, rally the troops forward. And if we don’t know what to do, the myth suggests we must do something in order to give the appearance of being in control.
Therein lies the underlying truth. We are not in control. Our busyness deludes us into thinking we are. The wisdom of many passages in the Psalms and other Scriptures exhorts us to “wait. ” Be still. Let go of the illusion of control. Get still and listen for the still small voice.
D decreased distractions
This culture cultivates and promotes incessant activity, strident activism and hyperactive connectivity. Our electronic devices keep us accessible to others 24/7. Talking heads on 24-hour cable news shows and push notifications on news apps vie for our attention around the clock.
Our devices have become extensions of our hands so much so that many of us feel out of sorts if we leave our smart phones at home by accident. Texting, tweeting, posting distract us from the present, so much so that it is likely that the leader tasked with handing the correct envelope to the celebrity announcer at a recent awards show was most likely texting and had become distracted.
What wrong envelopes are you passing out because of your distractions? During the first of the year, my church goes on a 21 day fast, in which we cut meats and sweets from our diet and commit to more prayer and devotion time. This year I added social media to my fast. I was amazed at how focused I remained throughout that 21 days. I also haven’t watched cable news since the 2016 Presidential election (that’s the subject of a different post).
As leaders we are much more valuable when we are present and focused. What changes can you make in your life to decrease the distractions?
O oneness of purpose (own it!)
By design, leadership is purposeful. That doesn’t mean all leaders lead on purpose. To be our best, each of us as leaders has to be clear on our purpose to lead accordingly. Each of us must answer the tough questions: What has each of us been placed on this earth to do that only we can do? How does our current leadership roles advance or hinder that purpose?
I am a firm believer that there must be a thread of purpose that runs through the fabric of our lives. That thread or oneness of purpose causes or enables the activity of our lives to cohere, come together, so we are not all over the place. Once you are clear on your purpose, own it!
W wise scheduling
Once each of us has slowed down to get back in touch with purpose, to change our thinking about our indispensability, then we become far more aware and strategic with our schedules. Time is precious and we cannot afford to commit to activities that, well, waste our time.
At some point, as busy leaders, each of us has to decide what should go on our “plate.” I use the “purpose plate” activity that I write about in my book, Purse Your Dream. Check it out.
Kim, my assistant, did a great favor for me recently. As she was coordinating my schedule for this client trip, she noticed the only flight I could get out the last day of my training would get me back into Chicago around 11:40 PM. Instead, she recommended a flight for the next day, booked an extra night in the hotel and in so doing saved $200 on the flight, making the additional hotel night a wash for the client. Kim gave me a precious gift – a “slow down” gift. That additional time allowed me to sit and talk with my client at dinner—to debrief the consulting engagement for sure, but to connect into each other’s lives. It allowed me early morning processing time to create and write this blog! It will allow me to get to and through the airport at a slower pace, trusting the day will unfold as it is supposed to and I do not have to rush through controlling things that are not mine to control.
I also include me in my scheduling with the same priority as my business or church commitments. I schedule a weekly date night that my husband and I do our best to honor. Most of the time it’s nothing fancy. For instance, last week we went bowling! I also am more intentional in scheduling my workouts and keeping to them. The sisters of my church created a Facebook group in which we share monthly challenges that we report out daily! This group keeps us accountable for caring for ourselves.
N No is a valid option
Far too many of us women leaders feel we have to please others. We take on the office mother role and not only say yes to every request; we tend to the care and keeping functions of the office. That is on top of our other tasks and responsibilities.
Too may of us have taken on this role that has in essence caused us to use the automatic yes to every request. I think too many of us in the professional space feel that yes is the only option we have in order to keep our jobs.
I get that! But at some point each of us must find our voices to be able to speak up on our own behalf. To be the most purposeful leader who operates by her convictions, committed to giving the best to the people and organizations we serve, we must have the option of saying no.
- No, I don’t have the capacity to do that at this time. Let’s think of some other options together.
- No, I can’t do that in addition to the other priorities we’ve set at this time. How might we shift those priorities to accommodate this request?
- No, I am not available for that meeting, but I can send a representative.
Ironically, I really suspect the easiest* person for most of us to say no to is the woman inside of us begging us to slow down and care for her.
- No, I must hunker down and continue to overwork because if I don’t what meaning will my life have?
- No, I cannot stop to rest right now, because I am needed and I like being needed.
- No, I won’t leave the office earlier, because I’m appreciated by my coworkers and I need to be appreciated by somebody.
- No, I will not slow down. I’m going to bring this project in on time, if it’s the last thing I do!
- No, I will not slow down, I will keep on being superwoman, even if it kills me.
Again, the biggest change most of us need to make is the change of our thinking about who we are as leaders and how we lead. SLOWing DOWN is essential for leaders who want to lead for long-term sustainability and for ultimate purpose.
* For clarity, this point was revised from the original version
© 2017 Dr Jeanne Porter King