Great leadership can be learned, developed, and practiced in every aspect of our lives. With hard work and introspection, anyone can learn to become a great leader using the tools and lessons of everyday life.
My wife and I embarked on a five day fast recently that included a lot of broth, water, some olives and homemade seed crackers, and…broth and water. We consumed about 500-800 calories per day and toward the end of five days we both felt surprisingly great.
But for us, the best part about the fast was not about how we felt, it was about what we observed during the five days. The first two elements of my leadership process are Emotional and Cultural Awareness and Recognition. Without awareness of how we feel (Emotions) which drives what we do (Culture) we cannot begin the process of positive personal and professional change. The fast was a drill in Cultural Awareness and Recognition, or the things we did. The fast became a tool to practice personal awareness, the same personal awareness that makes a great leader.
I was convinced my diet was solid, and by and large it was. I was sure my workouts were consistent, and by and large they were. Yet, recently I uncharacteristically added about 10 pounds of unwanted body weight without a clue as to where it came from. So, the initial goals of the fast were obvious: drop a few pounds and cleanse the system.
About 6 hours into the first morning of the first day of the fast I walked over to the refrigerator to grab an orange. My wife sat there and stared at me as I began to peel the orange. “What?!” I asked. “Aren’t we fasting?” she replied. I stared at the orange in my hand like it had just magically appeared, because I felt like it had. I didn’t even realize what I was doing. My wife admitted she had done the same thing earlier with a piece of homemade sourdough but caught herself before she ate it.
From that point on we both agreed to call out loud what we were about to do. The callouts were constant. “I was about to grab a pretzel rod.” “I was about to grab a couple of the kids french fries from the pan.” “I was about to pour myself a glass of wine.” I was about to finish what was on the kids’ plates.” To say this was eye opening is an understatement. Yes, our scheduled meals were very healthy. But we had become so accustomed to snacking all day in between meals we didn’t even realize we were doing it until we made a conscious effort to observe what we were about to eat, or what we were about to do. Now, since the fast, we have completely cut out the in between meal snacks we were previously unconscious of.
It is now obvious how my 10 extra pounds materialized.
What are you doing every day to be a great leader?
Are you aware or are you just acting unconsciously? Do you make eye contact with your child when they speak to you? Are you actively responding to your wife when she tells you something? Do you mindlessly spit out things to do for your employees rather than asking them how they intend to complete an initiative? Are you “multi-tasking” while your employees are in your office trying to update you?
How aware are you of what you do?
Leaders are aware because they are constantly practicing Cultural Awareness and Recognition. Because they practice this awareness, they can identify behaviors they need to stop doing or improve upon. What’s more, when leaders practice this awareness, they can identify behaviors in their teams, organizations, or families that need improvement.
Be warned, this is an eye-opening drill. You may not like what you initially see, but that’s ok. Practice Cultural Awareness and Recognition. Take a big gulp of humility and make positive changes to what you observed: to what you do every day to be a great leader.
One final note: This will be really hard.
Welcome to leadership!
Errol Doebler is the founder of Leader 193, a leadership consulting firm. After successful careers as a Navy SEAL Platoon Commander and FBI Special Agent, Errol founded Leader 193 to realize his passion of empowering great leaders and better human beings. Errol provides executive coaching, keynote speaking, and corporate retreats to individuals and teams across the world.
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