At the ripe old age of 22, after having a grand misadventure overseas and spending a year sequestered with my parents, licking my wounds, I became a leader. A tour leader, to be clear.
It was my job to lead groups of tourists across borders, picking them up in Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh city, and traveling across Cambodia, and back again.
It was a weird kind of healing, in retrospect. Jumping back on the horse, so to speak, to prove to myself that a ruinous experience didn’t have to define me. That I could, instead, create a new story for myself.
I have been wary of talking and writing about leadership in this age of alternative facts.
There are already far too many articles declaring the many luminous attributes that make up a leader. Too many articles purporting to detail what we need in order to craft workplaces of the future.
It’s enough to make you want to take a big long nap (followed by a champagne breakfast).
There’s a word that I use – and prefer – far more than leadership. Because it’s not prescriptive, it encourages individuality and creates the conditions needed for success to flourish.
That word is character. Defined as “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual”, this enables you to lean back into more of what makes you, you, while also emphasising the development of your personal moral code.
A leader for the bad times
A leader who’s a leader in the good times only, isn’t a leader. Anybody can lead a party and enjoy themselves while doing so.
Arguably, leaders show up in the bad times, when things are difficult, complex, ambiguous or uncertain. Leadership is the actions you take when nobody is watching and when you stand to gain nothing but the knowledge that you did the right thing.
There are many jostling to be leaders in the good times, but far fewer who show up through the bad times.
Harnessing your energy
Rather than talk about the attributes that make a good leader – covered by thousands of business articles elsewhere – I want to talk about harnessing your energy.
Especially if you don’t have a lot of support and resources to draw on, knowing how to harness your energy is critical.
Starting with the basics – sleep, good food and regular exercise – there are many energetic practices that will help you maintain, increase or harness your energy to draw upon when you need it.
Our body creates a cocktail of energy in multiple ways, particularly when under stress or pressure. While research shows that chronic stress is unhealthy over the long term, bursts of stress can produce some spectacular physiological reactions that enable us to rise to meet a challenge. In other words, our bodies are conspiring to help us out.
Growing your capacity
You know how some people appear to be superhuman? They appear to single-handedly manage massive responsibilities, juggle competing roles and demands, and look cool, calm and capable while dancing through life?
Their secret is capacity.
They know how to regulate their emotions and moods, they prioritise rest and rejuvenation (though this might not be clearly seen), and they grow their ability to deal with more, seemingly without ill effects.
Growing your capacity enables you to grow and scale your business. And to do so without increasing your stress, overwhelm and, eventually, burning out.
Growing your capacity means building your immunity to the harmful effects of stress while raising your ability to enjoy your progress.
Growing your capacity means having unwavering self-belief that you’re on the right path. (Despite setbacks, despite disappointments, despite ….) Thus avoiding the emptiness that many people experience once they’ve achieved a milestone because they’re been striving for an arbitrary goal with which they have little, or no, emotional connection.
The pause between your reaction and response
To further develop your leadership skills, a great starting point is to embrace the pause between your reaction and your response as this is the only thing that’s truly within our control.
Says Viktor Frankl, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and our power to choose our response. In those choices lies our growth and our happiness.”
Frankl’s 1946 book Man’s Search for Meaning, about his experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, is an eye-opening examination of the power of choosing your response.
The pause is not about denying or suppressing how you feel, but rather, making a wise decision on the best course of emotional, mental and physical response.
The pause invites you to consider the future you want to be part of and create it in the present. The pause between one breath and your next is where the character of leadership grows.