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Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

There’s One in Every Group (And How to Make Sure It’s You)

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One of the many fun things about my work is the patterns I get to observe from working with lots of leaders in lots of different organizations. The best part of that is when I see helpful things in the patterns that I can share with my readers. That’s what I want to do in this post – share a pattern I’ve observed that can help you lead and live at your best.

If you’re like most of the managers and executives I speak with in my presentations, workshops and programs, you’re operating in a do-more-with-less environment. When it feels like your to-do list at work (and at home) is getting longer and longer, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the only way out is to put in more hours on your work. The majority of the leaders I talk with have that mindset as a starting point. The problem with that is there will always be more work to do than you have hours to do it in.

Here’s where the pattern takes a turn, however. There is almost always one person in every group who doesn’t do it that way. They’re really tuned into what they need in their life to lead and live at their best and manage their time and energy so they get that. They’re not slackers. Like pretty much every leader I work with, they’re already successful in a senior role or have been identified as a high potential leader who’s ready for more responsibility. What are they doing differently?

Here are some examples:

In a high-potential workshop I led a couple of years ago, everyone was lamenting about how, between their personal smartphone and their company-issued smartphone, they were always available, always expected to be on call and always on alert for emails they needed to answer. That was true for everyone except one guy who said, “I don’t have a company phone anymore. I gave it back.” His colleagues were incredulous and wanted to hear his story. He told them that he had realized a year earlier that monitoring his company phone 24/7 was literally killing him. His blood pressure was high and his health was deteriorating. He finally decided that it was either going to be his job or his phone—one of them had to go. He walked into his boss’s office, handed him the phone and said, “I need to give this back.” His boss asked if he really meant it and if he really wanted to work at the company. The guy in my program explained that he did but not at the expense of his life. A year later, he was healthier, more productive and sitting in a program with a roomful of colleagues who, like himself, were designated high potential leaders. Giving the company-issued phone back worked for him.

A participant in our new virtually-delivered program on Leading and Living at Your Best shared her own story about boundaries on one of our group video conferences. She was recruited back to her firm after spending a few years working elsewhere. During that time away, she fell into a pattern of working 80 plus hours a week and abandoned her exercise and diet routines. She had been a competitive body builder so gaining weight and getting out of shape hit her hard.  When she was extended the offer to return to her current firm, she said she would happily take the job under one condition. She was going to work from home on Tuesdays and Thursdays and wouldn’t be available between 10:00 am and noon on those days because that’s when she’d be working with her bodybuilding trainer. Her new manager agreed and that’s how she’s been approaching the job over the past year. In addition to being invited into the program for high-potential leaders, she recently placed fourth in her first national-level bodybuilding competition.

One other example comes from a couple of people in one of our high-potential programs who have taken a stand against instant messaging. They both found that the constant pings on the IM system interrupted their concentration to the point where they couldn’t get anything done beyond reacting to whatever came in. They both turned off the IM system on their computers and let everyone know that the best way to connect with them was via email. There’s been no blow-back for either of them and they’re both far more productive and still highly thought of within their firm.

What difference would it make if you were the one in your group who chose to do things differently in the interest of leading and living at your best? A pretty big one, I’ll bet. How do you do it? Here are four lessons learned from my pattern analysis that I think you can apply:

  1. Know what you need. In each of the examples above, the leader had a clear sense of what they needed—less chronic stress, more time for fitness, more space to work on important priorities. To get what you need you have to know and articulate what you need (for yourself if no one else).
  1. Set some boundaries. In each of the examples, the leader set some boundaries so that they got what they needed. There are two important questions to ask yourself about boundaries. The first is, do you have any? The second is, if you do, does anyone else know what they are? If they don’t you may as well not have the boundaries in the first place.
  1. Do kick-ass work. The only way you get the grace to set and enforce your boundaries is to do kick-ass work. That’s a common denominator of everyone in the example stories. When you do kick-ass work, you’re much more likely to get some margin. The great thing about that is that more margin enables you to do more kick-ass work. It’s a virtuous cycle.
  1. Be willing to walk. In at least two of the three stories above, the leader was ready to walk if they didn’t get what they needed to lead and live at their best. This might sound radical until you stop and think about what kind of life you want to live, how long you want it to be and how much health and well-being you want along the way. If your answers are great, really long and a lot, you have to be willing to walk away from situations and jobs that make achieving those things impossible.

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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