Whether you are a leader of an organization, team, family, community, or school group—or like most of us, some combination thereof—each day you are faced with many moments that test your ability to lead effectively. Decisions need to be made, work needs to be prioritized, and initiatives need to be coordinated with colleagues, all of whom have their own agendas, styles, and perspectives. The landscape of contemporary life is pocked with challenges for all professionals, irrespective of industry, level, or skill.
Falling into the Four Pitfalls of Doing
Sometimes it’s easier to think about others before turning the focus on ourselves, so the first time through, think of a colleague, direct report, or someone you are mentoring and consider whether one of these pitfalls might be at play for them. Then, come back to think about how the pitfalls apply to you.
#1 The I’ll Just Do More Pitfall
In addition to physical and mental exhaustion and eventual burnout, the toughest consequence is career stall-out. This happens when the hardworking professional has done everything the organization has asked but then hits a ceiling in terms of the next promotion.
Instead of applauding your long hours and hard work, your boss begins to question if you have the chops to do anything other than churn out high volumes of work. You’ve cemented your status as the “worker bee” and can’t progress to the next level.
#2 The I’ll Just Do It Now Pitfall
When you stay in this mode too long, you might find that when you finally slow down, even a little bit, you end up getting sick because you’ve finally let your guard down. On the career front, you start to experience the downside of being overbiased toward (urgent) execution: you run the risk of getting pegged with a reputation as the “fix-it” person who just isn’t strategic enough for more senior roles.
#3 The I’ll Just Do It Myself Pitfall
By routinely doing things that others could do for you or by doing things yourself because you’re compensating for a weak performer on your team, you can become a bottleneck and end up compromising your vision. Ultimately, if you remain in this pitfall, you won’t be able to scale beyond your own capacity, and you risk inhibiting growth not only for yourself but for your team and your company. This often leads to incremental progress rather than the breakthroughs or transformations many companies are looking for.
#4 The I’ll Just Do It Later Pitfall
The impact on ourselves can be hard in this pitfall. While others’ needs are being met, your own health, well-being, networks, relationships, and professional or personal growth are compromised. You don’t fully embrace an opportunity, or you miss one altogether. You risk not moving the ball forward on an important or meaningful project, and at work, your contribution can plateau. Putting off or ignoring the big initiatives and objectives, over time, has the potential to derail or even end a career, and the stress of remaining in this pitfall.
As we become more aware of the triggers that cause us to slide down the slippery slope, we increase our ability to lift out of the noise and consider a different way of looking at things.
The five Ps are a reliable antidote to each of the pitfalls—they give us confidence that there is a way to get back on track, and when regularly attended to, they enhance our overall performance.
The purpose P is a critical part of a leader’s overall long-term effectiveness and satisfaction. It’s easy to let the day-to-day whirlwind and increasing complexity of our roles lead us to feeling out of control.
purpose = your contributions + your passions
Purpose doesn’t have to be abstract and hard to pin down. Be concrete about your contribution and passion. They serve as vital markers that keep us anchored in our purpose over time.
You can use the purpose quadrants to concretely plot your contributions and passions, creating an organizing framework to manage your time and energy more effectively.
Even amid busy days when you’re bombarded with meeting invites, requests from other people, and a barrage of work products you have to complete, you can still stay connected to your purpose by keeping contribution and passion in your mind as you better and more strategically sift your yesses and nos.
Being committed to process, structure, and rituals can enhance performance, save time, help you restore, and provide guardrails in a world where there is always more to do than hours to do it in. The second P, process, is like keeping a personal operating system up to date. Much like our laptops and smartphones, our processes are often due for a periodic upgrade.
Process looks very different from one person to the next. It’s important to create processes grounded in who you are and the role you are in now. Consider your relationship to process and structure and whether you are someone who naturally gravitates to it or resists it. You will want to have enough process to derive its benefits without letting it tip into unnecessary bureaucracy. Additionally, you should consider your natural energy flows and pacing—burst tasker or steady as she goes—and try to match activities to your chronotype and circadian rhythms as well.
Research has validated the importance of restoration and recovery to our performance. Having a portfolio of processes—from more passive forms to more active ones—to restore and recharge your energy is important. Set up rituals that give you a better shot of getting rest and sleep, that relieve tension, or that help you experience a greater sense of freedom so you can keep the battery recharged.
People are a direct contributing factor to bring the capacity, energy, and support needed to meet a deadline, realize a big goal, or build a company with great success and scale. On the other hand, people can be a contributing factor when you feel drained by your interactions with others.
Leader A mindset helps us maintain healthy boundaries and rules of engagement so people don’t drain our energy. We are able to care for ourselves as well as for others
You can raise your game while raising the game of others by taking a good hard look at the teams you lead, either directly or indirectly. Regularly examine the strength, structure, and composition of your team, making sure you have the right people on the bus. Get ahead of the curve on succession planning so you set in place a virtuous cycle: as you continue to grow and free yourself to take on new things, you are helping your people free up and take on new things, and then they in turn can help others grow and take on new things. As you move from being a leader of tasks to leader of a team to a leader of leaders, continually optimize the way you leverage, empower, and inspire those you work with.
If you find that you support others to the point of stress, exhaustion, or feeling overwhelmed, look at your current boundaries and rules of engagement. This will mean getting increasingly comfortable with bringing attention to your own needs, being clear on what is actually yours to own in terms of emotions and accountabilities, and learning to hold boundaries and respond to incoming requests with greater grace and clarity.
We’ve all had times when it feels like we aren’t progressing or aren’t present to the areas of our lives that are the most important to us. It’s not unusual to have times when we just can’t help ourselves and we want to scratch the itch. Rather than being present and making choices in service of our effectiveness or next-level impact, we instead get trapped and self-sabotage by engaging in old patterns, or we fall into habits of distraction, perfectionism, procrastination, or rumination.
Presence helps us to keep our focus and attention to move forward important goals, increases our emotional resilience to tolerate what may be uncomfortable in the short term to learn new patterns and practices that create and sustain long-term progress, and builds our inner capacity to pause between stimulus and response to make more thoughtful, wise decisions. When we have the capacity to be aware and grounded in the here and now and are able to exert our full attention, we make the leadership choice based on what’s best for the moment.
You can get present quickly so that distraction or procrastination don’t get the better of you by (1) choosing to work off-line, (2) bringing your focus from the mountain to the molehill and taking single steps, (3) giving yourself fifteen minutes to get into a flow, (4) staying anchored in the physical, or (5) using a grounding visualization technique to quickly bring attention and focus to the present moment.
As we reach a certain level of success, the fifth P, peace, helps us to relax and give ourselves permission to feel a greater satisfaction in the leadership experience. Rather than holding on so tightly and being defensive, we shift to the offense, loosening our grip just enough that we can enjoy the ride along the way.
Peace doesn’t need to be an abstract or soft concept. You can use the acronym of ACT as a reminder to incorporate peace into your leadership experience. The A is about accepting the moment so you can save time and energy by taking constructive and effective action for what’s within your control with more ease and acceleration. The C is about being content in the moment, knowing what’s enough and bringing more of an attitude of gratitude. The T is increasing your trust in yourself and life, knowing that you’ve achieved, learned, and grown, and you will again.
As you increase your acceptance, contentment, and trust, your leadership actions stem less from a need to prove yourself, self-preserve, or one-up others or yourself in some way. Leadership actions are then able to flow more consistently from a set of core principles that benefit not only the leader but their teams and organizations as well.