In a timely, yet largely unnoticed, Op-Ed piece on Monday, David Brooks summed up the crucible that is leadership today, “The toughest part of governing (leading) is the effect on the mind of those who govern (lead)”. While Brooks’ essay was predominantly focused on our current geo-political tumult, its lessons are equally applicable and prescriptive for leaders of all organizations.
In this Daily Brief, I would like to call out three essential take-aways — all sparked by sentences that Brooks has penned in this essay — that I believe are pivotal for the leadership crossroads we find ourselves at:
- “People in senior positions are simply too busy to learn fundamental new viewpoints. Their minds are locked within the ones they brought into power.”
- When your agenda is packed air-tight from dawn till well after dusk, how in the world do you create the space to see and think in new ways? One of the most extraordinary executives I’ve worked with had the audacity to assemble a leadership team comprised of individuals with completely opposing viewpoints. While occasionally explosive, this “creative abrasion” led to the development of truly original thought; it was this collision of opposites that ultimately shifted how the entire team, not to mention the CEO, thought about the future.
- “People at the top…confront such a barrage of immediate small issues that it is hard to step back and see the overall context in which they operate.”
- Despite the best of intentions, even the strongest of leaders become buried by the minutiae of daily life. In my work with executive teams, I’ve discovered that there are two key strategies for rising above the fray and combatting the myopic: (1) Invest in a daily practice that allows one to gain clarity amidst the chaos. Whether it’s running, writing or meditation, a daily ritual increases our capacity for quieting the noise and building greater resolve; and (2) Conduct as many meetings as possible outdoors or over short walks. Natural settings, as well as being in motion, moves one off of their current positioning (literally and figuratively) and helps to create a new perspective.
- “We’ll see… if there’s a leader who can step outside the crush of events…”
- When the world’s on fire — as many pundits have suggested — it’s tempting to bunker down and prepare ourselves for a winter of discord and discontent. The reason we look to the heavens — at such moments of gravity — is not for a savior, in the heroic sense of the word; rather, what humanity seeks is a steely voice that can draw a more courageous and imaginative arc forward. Whether your universe is a burgeoning enterprise or a burning nation-state, the same level of moxie is required to realize an alternative and more prosperous future.
What’s unique about leaders that make history is not pedigree or position, but simply purpose. Like all of us, they lay their heads down nightly riddled with questions, problems and vulnerabilities. Overnight, however, something magical happens. For when they wake, they have one and only one thing on their mind, “what can I do to change my world today?”
The choice is ours.