How you start has a lot to do with how you finish. That’s true in lots of things but after working with hundreds of successful leaders, I believe it’s true in leadership as well.
I find that most of the really great leaders I work with can tell me exactly how they start their day and it generally doesn’t change much. Sure, if they are traveling, most aren’t right now, there might be some deviations from what they do at home, but in general they have a routine that they follow and it is intentionally built to help them be at their best.
It isn’t something that they feel like they are forcing themselves through either, it feels like something that feeds their performance, and so they do it because they want or need to, not because someone said they should or because they feel like they have to.
For a long time, I felt like routines, rituals, and structure got in my way of being nimble, creative, and adaptable. I have learned slowly, usually the hard way, that this kind of structure actually frees you up to be all of those things.
It puts guardrails on your life in ways that keep you on the road you have consciously chosen rather than allowing you to run off the road, across the field through the soybeans and into the ditch. If you grew up on any kind of back roads, you know that little excursion is actually a lot of fun, until you hit the ditch.
We don’t need to be trapped in our lane, but we do need to have some support systems in place to help us get where we are going with the least amount of stress, effort, and wasted time and energy. We simply don’t make much progress on our journey if we are in the ditch. And make no mistake, we need field trips, but let’s choose to be on one, not end up there when we wanted to be on the road.
Leaders prepare to lead a team by finding a routine that helps them think intentionally about what their people need, what good would look like today, and how to spend their time so that they make the biggest difference they can.
They also find a routine that helps them be at their best so they can deal with the unpredictable challenges of leading a team of people. If I end up reacting, punishing, not listening, having no patience, snapping or otherwise not leading, my team takes a step back, not a step forward. And that defeats the purpose of me showing up in the first place.
I can think of some days along my leadership career that I candidly would have been better off just not showing up for work. My team would have been better off too. I’m not suggesting we should take that route, I am suggesting we should prepare to have fewer of those days. If we show up and our team or our business is not better because we did, well, we didn’t lead anything or anyone that day.
The bottom line is that to lead effectively, we need to have a positive impact, and to do that consistently we have to plan our actions more than we just let them happen. Otherwise, we stand a reasonable chance at showing up and making things worse. We can put the business or the team in a tailspin or even be a distraction from them doing their best work.
So think about the way you prepare for your day or your week by considering some of these questions:
If I wanted to be at my best as a leader…
- What time would I get up?
- What would I do first every morning?
- What would I think about before I started reacting to email or other distractions?
- How would I learn something or expand my thinking each day?
- How would I set or review goals regularly?
- What would my best weekly and daily routines look like if I drew them up from scratch with no constraints?
- Why does it matter that I prepare to show up at my best?
You may think of others you can add or that get sparked by these. If you went through and wrote your answers down to each one of these, you would think new thoughts, consider new possibilities, and possibly even start some new actions that pay off for you in pretty incredible ways.
Leadership is hard and none of us show up at our best every day. And some days, we think we’re at our best but by noon we are firmly in the ditch. Stuck, stopped, and doing no one any good.
It is only through our intentions and actions that we become more consistent at making a difference for our team, our business, and ultimately ourselves.