One of the most important leadership lessons I ever learned happened a decade ago when, in a moment of insanity, I agreed to get on the back of my husband's motorcycle for a 10-day adventure. I rediscovered the joy of the journey on that trip, which has forever changed me as a leader.
We've taken many other trips since then, but the one we just took turned out to be another "deep think" opportunity, rich with leadership lessons.
Raye and I just got home from a two-week westward swing motorcycling across the backroads of six states: California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Utah. This was a very unplanned, last-minute getaway. We had no hotel reservations, no itinerary, and certainly not much luggage. Just a destination we had to reach at some point — a motorcycle shop in Salt Lake City where we would drop off the Harley we had rented in San Francisco.
I'd like to share a few of my insights from this trip – four unexpected leadership lessons that seem particularly relevant as we are preparing for life in the Next Normal. These lessons have already provided some new direction for my own leadership journey. I hope they help as you navigate yours.
I'll share each lesson in a separate post so you can quickly skim my thoughts and practical suggestions. Hopefully, this will make it easier for you to find at least one takeaway in each lesson that you can apply. Here is the first lesson.
Leadership Lesson: It's not about getting there fast
It was an absolute gift to get away after months of lockdown, to spend time with my husband, and to see the westernmost corner of America the Beautiful (mask in hand) with the wind in my face. I think all of us would agree that travel of any kind is something to savor in this COVID season. As a result, we were determined to make the most of every day, to really drink it all in.
Sure enough, each day brought unique beauty and charm. We met interesting people and saw a slice of America you don't normally see when you stick to the main roads and big cities. We ate at local cafes and stayed at small hotels or cabins. Most evenings found us talking for hours with our riding companion, Kirk, a friend from the central coast of California with whom we've ridden many times before. It was definitely a time to reflect on leadership and life.
One of my first realizations came when I noticed something we were doing on this trip that was quite different from most of our other trips. We were taking our time. I love speed as much as anyone, but we chose the back roads for a reason – so we could slow down, see places, meet people, smell fresh cut hay, eat a local burger or two, enjoy the coolness of a waterfall in the woods.
We rode just enough miles every day, however long that turned out to be, resting when it was needed. Pacing ourselves in this manner, we covered nearly 3,000 miles in 13 days. We never would have lasted that far had we ridden 70 (or 80 or more…) mph on interstates the entire time.
Why pace matters
On a motorcycle, you ride to ride, not just to get somewhere. You're not in a hurry for it to be over. The journey matters as much as the destination. When I first learned to ride, I embraced that lesson in both my riding and my life. But, I confess, I have fallen back into a driven mindset many times.
This is a common problem for destination leaders that can have a disastrous ending if we're not careful. Too often we push ourselves and our teams at an exhausting pace to reach our goals. We drive hard and fast to get there. Then once we make it, we turn right around and start heading for the next goal. And the next. And the next.
If that's you, and it's become worse during this pandemic, here are five practical things you can do right now to prepare yourself to lead at a more sustainable pace in 2021.
1. Slow down every now and then
Being goal-oriented is a good thing, but it's not the only thing. An all-out push might work for a while (and during a crisis), but it's no way to live and lead on a regular basis – especially during times of extended uncertainty like right now.
If your pace is unrelenting, you're going to burn out mentally, emotionally and physically. Your team will be tempted to let go of the rope, too, and find another leader to follow if they never see you ease up a bit. Don't bring on a crash-and-burn scenario for yourself. Just be more aware of your pace. When you do, you'll also benefit by ensuring you don't lose your best talent because you can't find the "off" switch.
Resolve to slow yourself down a bit. You'll be a far more effective leader and teammate over the long run if you do.
2. Block your calendar
Once you're more aware of your pace, here is something you can do to break the full-speed habit. Try blocking your calendar twice a week for one hour. Use this quiet time to think deeply about a high-priority project, an important decision you need to make, or an opportunity you'd like to pursue.
Now I want to challenge you a bit: Focus on only ONE THING for the hour. I promise you will think more clearly and have better ideas when you resist the temptation to jump from thing to thing. And you may find yourself extending these times too, which will be even more fruitful.
3. Take time to listen
When you're always on the fly, you don't hear very well – literally and figuratively. Not only do you miss important facts, you also miss recognizing intentions and feelings that others might be trying to share with you. Slowing down is the best way to really listen to others and make sure you're getting the message.
A simple step you can take: Schedule at least one check-in every week with a valued teammate, a client, or a family member. Ask how they are doing. Seek out their point of view on an important issue. Be present and fully focused on what they are sharing. Let them know you appreciate what they have to say.
You'll both get a lot more out of these conversations when you take the time to listen.
4. Make time for "well-being breaks"
Neuroscience research has proven we are far better at thinking creatively and producing excellent work when our minds have taken a break. Especially in this work-from-home environment where it's difficult to separate living and working, you and your team must find some time away from the screen to refresh and recharge.
If your team is hesitant to step away from the workload, make it mandatory. Everyone (even you) must unplug for some PTO before the holidays. Even if it's just for a day here and there, ensure the team is taking some time off for themselves.
You'll get a lot better productivity – and earn your team's undying appreciation – if you allow time for each person to invest in their own well-being.
5. Have a daily moment of gratitude.
Being a leader is a gift – don't miss the joy to be found in every day of your journey. This is easy to say and hard to do for destination leaders. But I encourage you to work harder at being more present.
A simple habit that will help: Have a daily moment of gratitude to name one thing for which you are thankful. I do this first thing every morning when I wake up. This helps you be more aware of what's happening in your life each day and maintain a positive mindset, no matter what is happening around you.
You'll go a lot farther in your leadership journey if you can appreciate each step.
In Part II, we'll look at how roughing it, as we did on this trip far more so than on our typical vacations, provides opportunities for significant growth. Read part two, We Grow Most When We Are Challenged: Practical Ways to Expand Your Leadership Skills For the Next Normal, here.