You can’t operate at top gear all the time. Even “Type A” people need some downtime or they will eventually burn out. I watch people all the time push themselves to the limit. You can see it in their eyes and read it in their body language when they are exhausted. And, tired people tend to underperform, make less than optimal decisions, allow their people skills to slip and if they are not careful begin to resent heir work. It’s very important for leaders to learn to pace themselves and set a good example for others to follow.
The leaders I most admire can flex up or flex down their energy level as needed. They are good at reading situations and assessing what’s required of them and others. It is hard to rattle them. They are good at discerning the difference between what’s urgent and what’s not. They have a passion for what they do and work hard, but they also have balance in their lives. They tend to manage their time and activities very effectively. They realize there is more to life than work, however, when at work, they take immense pride in what they are doing and always put forth their best effort. They know their own strengths and weaknesses and surround themselves with people who complement and supplement them accordingly.
We’ve all heard the saying applied in many different situations that “it’s a marathon not a sprint.” While I like this metaphor for life, I prefer to view leadership as requiring the skills of a decathlete. The decathlon has 10 separate events requiring different combinations of skill, strength, speed, endurance, agility and focus. The competition last two weeks and many believe it is the ultimate test of athletic prowess. If a decathlete tried to win every single event all the time he probably wouldn’t even finish the competition. The physical and emotional toll would be too much. What’s required is an innate understanding of his own abilities; so that he can best leverage his talents and minimize his vulnerabilities. It’s as much strategy as effort. Pacing is everything. The ultimate result is an aggregate ranking in all the events so that the person with the best combination of scores over time wins. Interestingly enough, the top decathletes are mostly competing with themselves rather than getting caught up in the frenzy of peer to peer competition for each event. It is fascinating to watch.
Leaders need to be keenly self-aware and consistent in their efforts. They need to master context and hone their perspective. If you push the body or your organization too hard all the time it will inevitably break down. There will be times where you have to run flat out or operate in a crisis mode, but this should be the exception not the rule. You also don’t have to wage every war and win every battle. If everything is important than nothing truly is. Do your best, but pace yourself and stay focused on your game plan and the ultimate objective.
- Leadership Philosophy (armyandnavyacademy.org)
- Live chat with Olympic decathlete legend Dan O’Brien (seattletimes.nwsource.com)