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Leadership Bootcamp: Week 1

A four week exercise program to strengthen your leadership muscles

“What Great Leaders Do” lists drive me crazy. So crazy, in fact, I wrote an anti-guide about my worst leadership moments.

The Great Leaders lists drive me crazy because they actually make the majority of leaders worse through perpetuating the myths that you’re either born a great leader or not. That myth lends itself to extreme hypercriticism of leaders when that very effort could be put into helping leaders actually be better by identifying where the leadership challenges are coming from.

Because leaders are seen as “good” or “bad”, many tend to beat themselves up a lot to protect their reputation. The strive for perfection and the reality that they are constantly judged causes anxiety at the first sign of negative feedback. The anxiety actually causes leaders to, more often than not, unconsciously adopt negative behaviors that they will be judged negatively for. These negative leader behaviors include finger pointing, manipulation, controlling, not listening and ego protecting.

This is a big deal — not just for leaders but for the working world. If leaders were stronger, then employees would be happier. If employees were happier, their families would be happier. But the very tactics we use to evaluate leaders make them worse.

So here’s the deal. Leaders are neither good nor bad. They are human. Human beings have a big battle going on all the time between the primal side and our higher selves. Our higher selves make amazing leaders. Our primal animal side that bounces between fear, anger and self-loathing all in an effort of self-protection makes us bad leaders.

For our higher selves to win the battle, we need to practice and build strength. This means having less anxiety — not more. It means being more present and aware of which behaviors are coming from our higher selves and which ones are coming from fear.

So, instead of “What Great Leaders Do”, I’m going to introduce one new behavior every week that individuals and teams can practice. You’ll be working on the building blocks of being the present, authentic and emotionally intelligent leader all those lists talk about.

The first leadership workout in this series is:

Week 1: Practice Slowing Down and Looking Up

Work culture tells us to rush all the time. We are taught that to be super efficient we need to multitask and jump through tasks like hurdles. That is the opposite of great leadership. When we are running through the day we aren’t focused on people. We aren’t connecting, making eye contact and really feeling out what’s going on.

Week 1 is all about getting to a pace when you can be present and use your emotional intelligence. When you’re having a meeting close your laptop. When someone stops by your office look up and make eye contact. Put your phone in your pocket. Make a point of looking at your colleagues and your team in the eye.

You might be surprised at how hard it is. Its a workout for many.

Anxiety is going to tell you that its not ok to slow down. Remind your anxiety that it is just one week of practice and that isn’t going to get you in trouble. If you have a team, get your whole team involved in slowing down and connecting.

Now, if one week feels like way too much time to commit — that’s your fear trying to gain control. The best way to get fear in order is make the experiment smaller. Tell fear you’re just going to do it for a day or even just one meeting and see how it goes. Consciously give yourself moments in the day to practice it. Then make sure you have a little talk with fear afterwards and see if its worried you did anything that is going to hurt you. It really is just trying to look out for you after all.

At the end of the week, do a debrief (either by yourself or together if you’re doing the exercise with a team) and ask these questions:

What difference did people notice in the workday?

Were you more or less tired during the day?

What happened to individual and team productivity?

Was there any impacts on the quality of work? On decision making?

Write down any other observations and reminders of what you want to put into practice.

I’d love to hear about your experiences. Be sure to share them with me in a message or post them in the comments!

Have a great connected week!

About Gretchen: Gretchen is a career and entrepreneur coach and a former engineer and technology executive. www.gretchenhellman.com