The challenges of the workplace take their toll on us all. Late nights, long days, a fast pace, and diverse teams all require you to be switched on and available, ready to perform, constantly and consistently. Is this sustainable? Is it even achievable? Or is burnout inevitable? This post looks out how to get the best out of yourself whilst sustaining healthy, reproducing leadership.
In an orchestra each musician plays their instrument to the best of their ability at the right time, in the right way. When the moment calls for it, the performance must be perfect. Musicians arrive on the day of rehearsal not just eager to play but will have spent countless hours already preparing themselves and their instrument for that particular performance. However the pressure on them to do so is extraordinary and they have much to teach us about performing at our best, under pressure, and without losing our souls.
Here are five practices to consider –
Being well prepared for a meeting makes all the difference. However preparation for leadership isn’t event or project-focused. Leadership that consistently handles the pressures of performance is rooted in the confidence that you didn’t just show up but that this is something you have been working on for many years. Vince Molinaro in his book The Leadership Contract observes that great leaders “define themselves as leaders and commit to developing themselves”.
Looking back over your life you can probably see moments of success and achievement where your leadership has been validated. However it’s more often the unwished for events that shape and form our characters. It’s occasions when you had to deal with frustration or humiliation that may have led to failure or loss. It’s these experiences that provide an opportunity to examine that commitment to leadership and to make the choices that produce what really matters.
In an orchestra the musicians tune their instruments to a very particular frequency, usually 440 hertz, a note known as A 440. The note is played by the oboist, and the rest of the orchestra tune their instruments to match it. Traditionally the oboe leads the tuning because of all the instruments, it’s sound cuts through the orchestra, and it has a stable tone.
The rest of the musicians are aligning themselves with something outside of themselves. Whilst their skill level is world-class, they choose to submit themselves to an outsider – a trustworthy, more reliable source – in order to confirm their ability or if necessary fine-tune it.
Lack of accountability can have disastrous consequences. Personally it can leave you feeling isolated and lonely. Or simply losing your sense of perspective. However listening to others who are skilled performers too can help keep you balanced and in-tune with what’s going on around you.
One thing that’s immediately noticeable about an orchestra is how many instruments and how varied they are. No one person could produce the depth or quality of sound that they produce together. The conductor leads and each musician has their role.
An excellent leader produces their best work and survives for the long-haul by releasing others to do what they do best. Leaders are confident enough in their own abilities to empower others. This enables them to continually hand on the responsibilities and opportunities that they themselves have managed, developed, and accomplished, to those who they are leading.
A willingness to delegate responsibility is risky. It takes courage and confidence to develop a strong team. We wrote previously about the challenges of diversity. Studies show that their benefits extend beyond the team themselves, contributing to overall productivity and company growth.
An excellent leader takes responsibility for their interior life as well as their external, corporate development. Being able to manage our emotions, particularly under pressure and in an arena of high-risk and high-expectation, is challenging for anyone. Leaders are required to do so under a spotlight. Just like a soloist in an orchestra, they must be confident in themselves through a lifetime of preparation, a willingness to be accountable, and a deep sense of their own need to learn and grow.
Aristotle said – “Everybody can get angry – that’s easy. But getting angry at the right person, with the right intensity, at the right time, for the right reason and in the right way – that’s hard.”
Many of us consider that emotional discipline is a matter of self-control, which we may or may not be good at on any particular day. However for leaders who have taken time to develop their inner life as well as their external one, it’s more a matter of humility and self-awareness, which we can all develop.
Listening to an orchestra can be an incredibly moving experience. It can feel alive, intense and overwhelming. And then all of a sudden the pace and volume drop and perhaps just one instrument can be heard as a soloist takes up the lead.
One of the most important practices for us as leaders is finding the rhythm for our lives. No-one can function at their best when they are constantly driven by either the demands of their workplace or their own personal ambition.
Recent studies confirm that sleep is vital to producing our best work. “Basic visual and motor skills deteriorate when people are deprived of sleep, but not nearly to the same extent as higher-order mental skills.” However rest is about more than sleep. It’s about more than closing your eyes for a few hours and opening them again to the same problems a few hours later.
Rest is about a change of pace. Finding other interests. Enjoying a good meal. Reading a book. Rest can be physical, even exhausting. It just needs to be a significant shift from the daily routine. A change of scenery, company, or activity. A long enough pause for our bodies and minds to let go of the tension surrounding us. We can all work well long and hard for an event or project. Some of us even work better under pressure. However it’s only sustainable in short bursts. If we want to be performing at our best for the long haul, we have to give ourselves periods of rest to recover and re-charge for the next opportunity.