The alarm goes off, and we’re off to the races. Traffic—ugh. An appointment book full of obligations. An inbox overloaded with email. A series of phone calls to return. A number of important decisions to be made. Maybe a crisis or three. And all this before the real business begins.
For any CEO, the ability to step back and recharge may seem impossible, at times. But, for Sarah Morrison of the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, and Executive Coach John Fenton, it’s about disciplining yourself and *making* the time. After all, a stressed leader means an equally stressed work environment. And, stress is not productive.
Maybe you’re not the next Dalai Lama, but by taking a moment to regroup, relax, and reestablish focus, even the most overworked and overwhelmed individual can find a sense of inner balance while expanding their EQ. This is especially important in those industries where the pace fluctuates wildly, with potential uncertainties are around every corner…like healthcare.
Remember: Everything Flows From You
For someone like Fenton, how you show up as a leader dictates how your company and its culture are defined. That’s why taking some time away from the minutia is so important. “Give yourself just 15 minutes a day to recharge yourself,” he suggests. “I’m a big believer in mindfulness and practices around that to really center yourself.” Morrison agrees, “There are so many demands on you as a CEO, from the minute you walk in the door, that you need to attend to. So, you do have to step away.”
There has been a lot written about how mindfulness empowers an executive. In an article for the October 26, 2012 Harvard Business Review, Bill George states, “With all the near-term pressures in today’s society, especially in business, it is very difficult to find the right equilibrium between achieving our long-term goals and short-term financial metrics. As you take on greater leadership responsibilities, the key is to stay grounded and authentic, face new challenges with humility, and balance professional success with more important, but less easily quantified, measures of personal success.”
But what, exactly do they mean by “step away?”
“Clear your calendar for 15 minutes,” Fenton explains. “Give yourself permission to clear that time. To have that time, so to speak.” For him, it’s important that a leader focus on themselves – to do some simple breathing exercises or some other activity to help center themselves. It will require discipline, but there is an obvious reward in the end.
“Honestly, what happens is by spending less time, you actually create more. You create more opportunities, you create more – what I’ll call time equivalent,” he states. It’s a concept that revolves around what you get out of the hours you put in vs. the actual amount of time you devote to a project or idea. Morrison admits this is often easier said than done. “I’m going to say ‘stepping away’ is absolutely imperative, but it’s hard,” she adds.
Raise Your EQ
It’s all about raising one’s emotional IQ. We could all use a bit more empathy in our lives. Psychology Today defines someone’s emotional intelligence as “the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others.” This includes “three basic skills: emotional awareness; the ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving; and the ability to manage emotions, which includes regulating your own emotions and cheering up or calming down other people.”
Sounds exactly like what is required of a CEO. But, just because it is inherent in the job doesn’t mean that every leader is comfortable with it. That’s why taking time to recharge is so important – and you don’t have to do it all at once. “Focus on doing some grounding or what I call centering exercises first thing in the morning,” Fenton says, allowing yourself 15, 20, or even 30 minutes. “Also schedule that time later in the day,” he continues, ” because the opportunity to recharge yourself in the afternoon is very important.”
It’s all about clearing away the clutter, of tuning your mind to the main focus of any business – the employees and how they are managing the tasks required of them. While practicing these skills, “I became more of an authentic leader,” he proclaims. Morrison makes it clear that being engaged with your staff on a personal as well as professional level is a key to success. “Relationships are everything,” she says, “it’s about being present.”
Apply a Personal Touch
Morrison knows that her hands-on approach yields important benefits, like trust and loyalty. She knows the names of ‘most’ of the 1700 staff members who work for her and tries her best to build relationships that positively impact Shepherd. “The first thing I do every single morning is look at whose birthday it is. I send them a birthday email,” she states. “I also look at people who have anniversaries with us,” she continues, making sure to recognize them as well.
It’s all about breaking down the barrier between the boardroom and the lunch room. Fenton takes it a step further. “Interrogate reality,” he suggests, which he says can be accomplished via a real dialogue within the organization. “Everyone has their own experiences in life. We all bring our lens to every opportunity, every interaction, and our own perspective of what reality looks like,” he adds. Since it is so personal, it cannot be universal. We all see things differently, so a good “interrogation” clears the air, sets the standards, and gets everyone on the same page. For some, just being heard is good enough.
Morrison often goes the extra step to make the connection and communication special. “One of the most impactful things (a CEO can do),” she says, “is writing notes to home.” Not an email or a text, but an honest to goodness handwritten note – for a job well done, in recognition of a special event, or just to acknowledge how grateful you are to them for all the hard work. “I’ve never sent a note home where somebody didn’t come back and find me and said that note meant so much to me.” She calls it creating a “flywheel of passion.” We call it smart leadership.
It’s About Appreciating Everyone, Including You!
For both Morrison and Fenton, it’s about making people feel needed and wanted. They recognize that it takes time to put these new habits into practice, but in the end, the modeling is worth it. This is even more important when mistakes are made. “We’re all human, we’re not perfect,” Fenton says. “If you blow up, just own it. Own the fact that you made a mistake and then work forward from there.” In his mind, a CEO is really a coach, and there are good coaches and bad coaches. By building a solid emotional IQ, you make everyone feel important and part of the team. And you lead by example.
Morrison sees the results of this every day. “Our average tenure is eight years for all of our employees,” she states, “but if you look at our managers, we have ones that have been there for 42 years.” Others have been there more than 20. She chalks it up to the time she takes every day – for herself, for those little handwritten notes, for walking the walk and talking the talk with all members of her staff. “It’s about employee satisfaction,” she argues, and to paraphrase a famous saying, how can you legitimately appreciate someone else if you don’t appreciate yourself? By taking the time, as Fenton and Morrison suggest, and disconnecting from the daily grind, a whole new world opens up, one that makes the so-called rat race a lot smoother to run.