Certain things are hard to describe. You can't always find the perfect words and sometimes your mother language doesn't even have the exact words you need. I remember one of the greatest fire chiefs I've ever known, Alan Brunacini, when he asked us to describe great leadership. I found myself thinking - I can't describe it perfectly but I definitely know it when I see it. Even more important, especially when the stakes are high and you absolutely need to win, you know it when you don't see it.
One red thread I definitely see in the best leaders in the fire service, in the military, and in those that we have worked with, is that great leaders don't leave their performances to chance. They follow Lao Tzu's advice and purposefully win the war in their mind first (they visualize success). As he said, "Mastering others is strength but mastering yourself is true power." To me, great leaders demonstrate this with their impeccable preparation for their Peak Performances.
One such leader is new in his role as he is tasked to fight off a giant competitor, re-engage a complacent team, and inspire growth where simply avoiding sinking was previously seen as a win. Realizing that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, he has masterfully prepared for every team engagement and meeting to be sure he is listening intently, learning constantly, and role modeling key behaviors which he feels are fundamental to the team's future success. He has made energizing the team a top priority. Often he will stop a meeting short because the original objective has been met and he knows that rambling on will only rob the team of their energy and time. Even worse, it will lead to a meeting culture where doing your time is more important than doing your business. In order to do this he must impeccably prepare and openly share his Sustainable High Performance strategies so everyone understands the "why" behind the non-traditional behaviors.
Another leader who is leading a huge business trying to gain market share in these still tough economical times realizes that performance stress and a lack of quick results can easily lead to discouragement, mental fatigue, and burn-out. In this must win situation he could easily pound his fists, demand quicker results, and begin to panic as his own flawless reputation is being threatened. Instead, he keeps his focus on his own True North (his own personal "why"). He uses his recovery strategies to manage his emotions and stress, and he consciously finds every opportunity to reassure his team that their perseverance, hard work, great attitudes, and focus will pay off. He leads from the front, sets great examples, and never misses an opportunity to ask those around him how they are doing with their own Sustainable High Performance strategies. He doesn't say he cares, he authentically shows he cares.
What impresses me so much about these two leaders is that at the same time there are numerous leaders (in very similar situations) who are tired, reactive, and unprepared. They race into meetings one comment away from blowing a fuse, they exhibit the adult version of a 2-year old temper tantrum, and they mistake theatrics for sincerity, commitment, and trust. They burn out their best producers, but refuse to take accountability for their contribution. They have lost their direction because they have ignored the several key Sustainable High Performance lessons of leadership. These are:
- Take care of yourself first so you can give more to those around you.
- Create a clear vision of yourself as your best leader self and of those around you as their best self.
- Sincerely help those around you recharge, recover, regenerate, and rebound from mistakes.
- Use walking meetings whenever possible because they are less intimidating, more innovative, and more energizing.
- Constantly reflect on what went well.
- Purposefully prepare for your Peak Performances.
- Understand that like golf, leadership is not a game of perfect.
- Always protect your home sanctuary.
As we've discussed previously, leadership can be lonely. Leadership is hard. Leadership is a work in progress. But great leaders know that it is all worth it because there is no better feeling than accomplishing together what could never been accomplished alone. Even better, there is no better feeling than doing this while having your team standing on the top of the mountain still energized, still engaged, and still excited about the next challenge. This only happens when you practice Sustainable High Performance habits yourself, you encourage and support those around you to do the same, and you create an ecosystem and culture that makes it the path of least resistance.