Achieving your Leadership-PB
Are you the best leader you could be?
Have you reached your Leadership Personal Best (L-PB)?
Bravo if you are able to answer ‘yes’ – but even then, how long will it last? In the modern workplace, leadership is being redefined. Just as last century’s business models and best practices are being fundamentally called into question, so too are existing leadership models and practices. Up for reinvention.
Too often, our attention on leadership focuses on what we are doing to and with others. “Am I empowering my team?” “Should I foster more collaboration?” “Have I provided a clear purpose and vision?”
All excellent questions – but who’s leading you?
No elite athlete can contribute top performance to their team unless they first master their own development hurdles. And as is the case in the sports arena, mental and physical fitness combined, are necessary to achieve personal best leadership results.
Leadership PB – Physical
Most leaders I work with lament that they neglect their physical wellbeing due to the demands of their work and travel schedules. It’s understandable and in many cases has become habitual, but it has to stop. Ignore these three crucial needs of the human body at your peril:
Not only will regular, quality sleep help you focus and concentrate, sleep consolidates memory and learning. Sleep makes you smarter. Further, sleep deprivation is increasingly being implicated in cognitive decline and ultimately dementia. How much sleep you need varies by individual, but the vast majority of us function optimally on 7-9 hours (yes, that’s per night).
In addition to making you feel great and think sharp, good sleep patterns mitigate stress levels and set you up for high performance.
38% of adults and 18% of children and adolescents worldwide are obese or overweight. With such a fabulous array of food choices, many of us regularly make the wrong ones, or simply don’t balance the energy-input-output equation. And it’s not just your body that shows the effects of poor diet – your cognitive performance also declines. The nutrients in your blood stream fuel your body and brain – are you firing on the high-octane equivalent variety or succumbing to the sluggish performance induced by cheaper, low-grade nutritional fuels?
Great brain foods include some of my favourites – coffee, dark chocolate, fatty fish, berries, nuts and eggs.
Daily aerobic and anaerobic activity is more than just a must-do for your physical wellbeing – the brain thrives on it too. Exercise increases the blood flow throughout the body and brain; your blood carries oxygen and nutrients, both essential for top cognitive functioning. Studies clearly show the impact of physical exercise on the brain: increased grey matter (actual brain volume), increased neuroplasticity (the formation of new neural connections) and increased neurotrophic factors (growth of new brain cells). All this improves your levels of attention, cognitive processing speed, executive functioning and memory – once again, making you smarter. In addition, physical exercise impacts emotions, improving your mood, resilience and emotional stability.
Without these foundational physical building blocks, you are potentially sabotaging any chance of achieving your Leadership PB.
Leadership PB – Mental
Next is managing your mental state. It’s long been known that to achieve optimal levels of performance, we need just the right amount of stress or arousal. Too little and we lack motivation and too much results in feeling overwhelmed. In both cases, procrastination and under performance occurs.
I wrote about the importance of flow and the neuroscience behind it recently. The script is pretty well laid out for what the human brain needs as essential elements to achieve high levels of cognition. Unfortunately, we continually contravene brain rules and thereby, compromise what we are truly capable of.
Top of the hit list of habits and behaviours that make us more stupid than smart are:
Fight it all you like (I am frequently challenged by leaders who insist they are excellent multi-taskers), numerous scientific studies repeatedly yield consistent results: we are really quite lousy multi-taskers and our self-awareness of it is equally poor.
The technical term for multi-tasking is dual task interference, which is what I prefer to call it, as it accurately describes what is actually happening: when attempting two or more tasks at once, they interfere with each other. That means you aren’t performing in either task as well as you would were you concentrating on one – you are effectively diluting the quality of your output in both.
Not only are we not so great at doing two things at once, there’s a limit to how much real thinking we can do on any given day altogether. By real thinking I’m referring to active engagement of your conscious brain, your neocortex. This is where you are receiving and interpreting new information, forward planning, dealing with complex ideas, making decisions and tackling difficult people or social scenarios.
The analogy often used to describe this depletion of cognitive resources over the course of a day is of a battery with a one-day capacity that requires recharging each night (through sleep). That helps to visualise the daily drain on your mental energy, starting from the time you wake up and being depleted to varying degrees by the stress, complexity or challenge involved in each task during the day. Not so accurate in this analogy is that a battery performs to its full capability until it is empty. Our brains don’t hit the wall and come to a dead stop at 3:00pm because we’ve had a tough morning – instead they get slower and we experience mental exhaustion, apathy, indecision and lower levels of tolerance.
Brain bandwidth is another way to think about cognitive load. The more you use of your daily bandwidth allocation, the slower it becomes toward the end of the day.
Our challenge with achieving Leadership-PB mentally is to consciously manage the day and the activities in it, by putting important and challenging activities first while our cognitive resources are high and refreshing our reserves throughout the day through adequate attention to physical factors (including hydration, nutrition, rest breaks and physical movement).
Leadership PB – Social
Finally, being the best leader you can be requires effective relationships with those whom you lead. This is the topic of my next blog.
In this post, my intention has been to turn the spotlight inward: what are you doing to and for yourself that may be impacting your ability to achieve your L-PB?