A recent meeting with a client CEO reminded me of a story from my own journey as a CEO that I thought I would share.
Among the many challenges for leaders is maintaining a positive outlook. Why challenging? Because leadership is a steady diet of a) risk taking (every decision represents a cost or loss to someone and can potentially fail), and b) solving problems. It never ends. It sometimes feels as if you aren’t moving forward, and ironically, greater success seems to bring bigger problems. In times of crisis, it is easy to align the troops, quell personal agendas and jealousies, achieve real teamwork/cooperation. But, with success comes a change of viewpoint. Colleagues become competitors, focus shifts from surviving as a team to winning personally.
Leading through survival is fulfilling, but hard on the nerves and digestive tract. Leading through success often brings disappointment in our fellow man. In short, a tough diet.
There was a time in my professional career that I found myself tapped out. There was nothing more in the tank. I was going through the motions, but was no longer leading. I was unable to bring any positive energy or outlook to the office. I was perpetually tired. I was not open to hearing about one more problem. My patience for concerns between colleagues was non-existent.
I struggled on for weeks and one day came to the realization that I was no longer fit for duty. At the next staff meeting I removed myself from my post as CEO declaring that I was no longer adding value and needed to remove myself. I announced that I was unfit for duty, was going home and would not be available by email or phone until further notice.
I spent three or four days doing nothing but listening to classical music, taking walks, working out and reading cookbooks and delivering delicious meals for my family. My wife was overjoyed, stating that she would take on a second job if I would remain her personal chef and housekeeper. That idea didn’t get much serious thought.
On day three, I took my first look at emails. On day four, I announced I would take calls at home. On day five I returned to the office, totally renewed. Reflecting back, it was making myself a priority and nourishing myself versus clients and staff that made the difference.
That was nearly 20 years ago now and I haven’t had to repeat declaring myself unfit for duty. What I learned is that if I don’t take care of myself, there is no reserve to pull from to give to others.
My advice for my client the other day was to take a few days to renew himself. Get in touch with what you want your legacy to be as leader of your organization. It is easy to lose sight of that in the day to day battles. It is the picture of that legacy that provides the motivation to keep going. If you lose it, then it is time to move on, as your ability to lead has been lost.
Losing passion for the future is not a personal deficiency, it is a set of circumstances. Politics, lack of support, wrong timing…all of these can create a situation that can’t be overcome in the near term.
The moral of the story? Renew yourself, and you renew your organization. Real courage is not struggling on, but trusting your team to carry on while you do what is needed to refill the tank.
Does my story ring true for you? I would love to hear your thoughts. Please send an e-mail my direction with comments.