Thursday, January 21, 2016

Nine daily habits for personal leadership and top performance


All leadership starts from within. You can only truly lead others when you can truly lead yourself.
Running a creative business is tough. The constant roller-coaster of emotional ups-and-downs presenting anything from, anthemic highs when your team out perform your wildest expectations, to crushing lows when you realise that the root cause of every problem you face, may, just be your fault.
Dramatic? Maybe, but agency owner/operators invest themselves fully, unquestionably and unreservedly in pursuit of their vision. We wake up each morning committed to progress and growth adopting ever changing roles to support ourselves and our team to get there. Motivating, leading, inspiring, advising, mentoring, supporting, teaching, coaching, learning….
Actually, the truth is, we also wake up each morning with doubt, questions, reservations and terrified of the unknown. In short it’s not only personally challenging but exhausting.
However, this is not an article on the challenges of leadership and the running of a successful business, this is an article on successfully running oneself.
All leadership starts within. You can only truly lead others when you can truly lead yourself.
Whatever your vision, when you choose to become a leader you also need to make a conscious choice to focus on your own personal development and wellbeing. Perhaps even more so than you already do. You may feel your first priority is to focus on squeezing more work into your already hectic schedule, finding ways to work harder or longer. However this approach creates a personal false economy as you drive your own wellbeing and consequently your effectiveness into the ground.
The best leaders are more tactical, they prepare for ongoing challenges through their daily habits, they know when to work hard but always leave fuel in the tank for unforeseen challenges and to support others.
Simply put, an increased focus on your own wellbeing and personal development will not only prepare you for greater success but to better overcome problems and thrive in challenging times.

Below are introductions to 9 core daily habits focused on personal leadership and growth. It’s by no means an exhaustive list but whatever stage you are at in your life or career I hope you find something here that helps you stay strong and work to your full potential.

1. Choose a minimal lifestyle

We live in a world constantly fighting for your attention, presenting you with an ever evolving set of choices to consider throughout the day.
Constantly considering options depletes your mental capacity, creates decision fatigue and costs attention that then can’t be spent on action. Resulting in less or no productivity, less or no appreciation and can add to a growing sense of overwhelm and stress. By deliberately limiting your options you can streamline daily activities you may currently over thinking, minimise distractions, reduce stress and create more space for creative problem solving and output. Things become much simpler and your days far more enjoyable.
A simple example of this would be your morning routine. I’m a morning person so personally I like to wake up and hit the ground running. To automate my mornings I typically stick to the same routine and limit my options. I choose to not watch tv, read the newspaper, listen to the radio or scan social media and ideally leave checking my email till at least 9am (I wake at 6). I maintain a limited wardrobe so I don’t trip myself up into an endless loop of decision making about what to wear and I typically eat one of 3 breakfasts which I can make without too much thought. All of this allows me to protect my morning focus.
Considering your attention and focus a precious resource the choice minimal lifestyle is a useful tool to create boundaries to protect it throughout your day. You have a choice to take control of what influences you and commands your attention.
Less choice = space for greater attention and focus = higher quality output = greater satisfaction.

2. Unplug

Neatly following on from considering a choice minimal lifestyle is the need to unplug from the endless distraction of digital fixes, be it social media, email or app notifications. It’s widely accepted now that our constant digital connection is fostering addictive behaviour with our devices. Constantly searching for that little hit of adrenaline, that positive reinforcement that comes with our virtual connections, likes, comments, favourites, mentions, replies...
We all have limited cognitive capacity. That is to say our attention is not a renewable resource. You can not simply keep feeding your mind and expect it to perform well when you choose. Constant connection leads to constant context switching and digital overload distracting you from important daily tasks and effectively eliminating all focus and productivity. This has a cost not only to your focus and energy but also your business and your life.
FOMO (fear of missing out) will crush you every time. When you’re constantly checking in or responding not only are you not present in that moment, you are not focusing on your own life’s purpose or work.
Take control by setting boundaries and choose when to interact online based on your personal agenda, not the agenda of others. Simply turning off all notifications is a big help, or better still remove social media apps from your mobile altogether (scary)! I’ve recently been building habits to distance myself from my phone as much as possible, meetings, meals, bed time, weekends and importantly anytime I spend with my children. The sense of freedom and space is a wonderful thing.

3. Results driven - no complaining

Negative behaviour, complaining, moaning and past-tense deliberation are all traps that only sever to suck up your precious attention, emotional reserves and kill progress. Negativity can spread quickly, has a lingering effect on your mental state and will quickly transfer to those around you.
As a leader your number one priority should be to spearhead the support effort of every member of your team in pursuit of your shared vision and ambitions. You have a responsibility to stand tall in the face of challenges and lead by example with a positive, objective, results driven outlook.
Don’t take this lightly, it will make or break your efforts and that of your team.
Condition your present state awareness to notice negative behaviour in yourself and others and work hard eliminate it. Re-enforce positive behaviour and problem solving focused on actions that drives results.
Nobody likes spending time with a killjoy, least of all yourself, it’s exhausting, unprofessional, ineffective and a complete waste of time.

4. Focus on your wellbeing

This is one of the most basic and fundamental habits you should nurture daily. A serious and dedicated focus on your general wellbeing and health is essential to, well... life! If you don’t care about your health, every other aspect of your life will suffer and the damage will compound over time. Here are few fundamentals to consider.

Regular exercise.

The benefits or regular exercise reach far beyond the physical. With every completed workout you will feel a sense of satisfaction and personal achievement that will boost your self confidence which in turn will push you to achieve more. You will not only be healthier but more optimistic, confident, satisfied - happier!
Another benefit is the mental space and clarity of absolute focus on the task in hand. Exercise can be a means of escape from daily pressures, or, to think of it a better way, a means to find some mental peace through forced focus. While your conscious mind is focused on the workout your unconscious mind will have space, space that can be filled with insight or problem solving so valuable to progression ultimately making you more productive.
There is a staggering amount of bad advice out there regarding exercise which can be overwhelming. So to keep it simple, if you’re moving, it’s good, aim for 30 mins per day. Variety is key and find something that covers the basics, focusing on core functional movement and mobility first, followed by strength, endurance and speed.

Eat clean, eat well.

Many people eat badly, very badly. We’ve become lazy in our food choices at the cost of convenience, allowing others to make food and nutritional choices for us. Consequently it’s sometimes hard to distinguish food from product in our modern society as cheap to produce, highly processed, high profit foods are pushed to the fore in stores.
But it’s actually quite simple - Naturally we all know the basics of what good nutritional food is, you just need to take deliberate steps towards building good daily eating habits. Here are some basics:
Every meal should contain a balanced amount of high quality protein, carbs and vegetables or fruits. Shop local and stick to seasonal produce where possible always aiming to get your ingredients fresh and unprocessed. Avoid highly processed foods, sweets, sugar, fast food, instant meals. Finally, develop a habit of preparing your own food with high quality, fresh ingredients. This act alone will not only increase the quality of your food intake but teach you about food and your body’s nutritional needs in the process.
Take responsibility, educate yourself about food and nutrition. You’ll be amazed how much the basics of good nutritional intake can profoundly affect your day-to-day wellbeing and consequently your ability to perform as an effective leader.

Drink Water, lots of water.

Most people are unknowingly, chronically undersupplied with water resulting in one of the most common reasons for fatigue during the day. Every chemical reaction within the body needs sufficient water, without it your brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, nerves and muscles cannot work properly. Simply put, It is an essential medium for literally all functions of the body.
We lose at least 2.5 litres of water daily just through respiration, sweat and exertion which is why guidelines exist to drink two to three litres (0.5 to 0.75 US gallons) per day. However if you are exercising regularly, and you should be (see above), you will need to drink more. A good guideline is to drink 50ml (1.7 fl oz) per kilogram body weight. This may produce a daunting number, for example my daily intake is 4 litres, however the benefits both mentally and physically are undeniable.
And just clarify, this means pure water – no alcoholic, caffeinated or sugary drinks.

Prioritise sleep, rest well, rise early.

Sleep equals recovery, mentally and physically. It’s essential to your health, daily performance and productivity.
Good quality sleep will keep you happy and upbeat. You’ll increase your ability to think clearly, manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure. During sleep the body also releases growth hormones aiding muscle growth and fat burning essential to physical recovery from regular exercise. Not only that, people who get enough sleep, liver longer and healthier lives.
Lack of sleep on the other hand has major detrimental affects to your wellbeing. It stresses you out, increases anxiety and makes you emotionally reactive. Seriously impaired brain function slows your ability to process information and problem solve. Any period of sustained focus becomes unbearable resulting in little to no productivity. Sleep deprivation is also terrible for your health and linked to a variety of serious health problems including strokes, heart attacks, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
If you want to perform better you need to sleep better.
Where possible be consistent in when you go to bed and rise. This will greatly improve your quality of sleep as your body becomes familiar with the routine. Aim to sleep for 7 to 9 hours but take the time to learn how much you personally need and adjust your schedule to fit. Prepare for sleep by relaxing and winding down, this means avoiding late night working as your brain will remain alert making it difficult to sleep, no caffeine (ideally from lunch time) and no devices. Eliminate any interruptions within your control (kids not included) and finally develop a habit of waking up naturally (no alarm), your days will start off so much better for it.
If sleep is still low on your agenda consider this 'The negative effects of sleep deprivation are so great that people who are drunk outperform those lacking sleep’ - Dr. Travis Bradberry
Finally, enjoy your pleasures with moderation. A healthy mind lives in a healthy body.

5. Practice meditation and mindfulness

Meditation doesn’t need to be some strange practice reserved for aspiring monks or yogis. It can be the simple act of sitting alone in silence, closing your eyes and observing your thoughts for just 10 minutes a day.
Research shows that regular meditation practice is an effective treatment for stress and anxiety, promotes emotional stability and a considered, mindful approach to everyday situations. It improves self control and your ability to focus on a single task for longer and is also proven to promote ‘divergent thinking’ essential to idea generation. You’ll also sleep better.
Meditation is the gentle practice of training and transforming the mind. Observing our relationship to our passing thoughts and feelings, learning to view them with a little more perspective. Through this practice you will naturally find a place of calm, become less critical and judgemental about yourself and others developing more harmonious relationships. You will be more accepting of the world around you, feel more content, happy and satisfied.
Even the basics of mediation can have a transformative effect rewarding you with a new understanding of yourself and life. It becomes a state of being that can be profoundly peaceful and energising that you will naturally want to maintain throughout your day.
"We can’t control the sea, but we can learn how to surf the waves”. — Headspace

6. Wake up grateful & show appreciation

Gratitude is simply being aware of the gifts in our lives and consciously experiencing appreciation. It’s the opposite of depression and anxiety and the positive results are tangible. Gratitude can lead to an increased sense of wellbeing, better sleep, increased energy, willingness to accept change, strength in the face of challenges and even lower symptoms of physical pain.
We can be so wrapped up in our current work-flow, project goal or our next professional challenge that we forget everything that’s happened to get us where we are. A daily focus on gratitude and appreciation reminds me of all the gifts in my life and to celebrate my life’s journey to date in balance with all those mundane moments that can be amazing sources of joy.
You can experience gratitude in many simple ways, for example by keeping a journal or by simply focusing on appreciation for a couple of minutes. Personally, whether I write anything down or not, the important thing for me is the strength of present state awareness I feel when I focus on what I am personally grateful for. I feel positive, elated, warm and fuzzy, it makes me smile and the feeling stays with me through out the day.
It’s an essential tool for a balanced life.

7. Adopt a growth mindset

The way we think defines us. It defines our behaviour, actions and our relationship to learning, success and failure. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck identifies two basic mindsets we carry about ourselves, fixed and growth.
A fixed mindset assumes our character, intelligence and creative ability are static givens we can’t change in any meaningful way. Success then, is a result of inherent qualities and striving for success becomes a way of maintaining a sense of being smart or skilled. Threatened by the success of others failure is feared and avoided at all costs as it presents evidence of unintelligence and poor skill.
A growth mindset believes qualities like character, intelligence and creativity can be cultivated through daily effort and deliberate practice. Success then, is the result of this daily effort and striving for success is a journey of leaning and personal development. The success of others presents lessons and inspiration and failure is embraced and viewed objectively, not as evidence unintelligence but as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Every day presents us with new opportunities. A growth mindset gives you an objective lens through which to view your day and encourages a passion for learning and personal development versus an hunger for approval and credibility. You will see opportunities instead of barriers, embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, learn from criticism and recognise effort as the path to success.
Believe in your ability to learn and improve.

8. Shut out your critics.

As a leader you are an easy target for criticism and those who want to vent their frustrations. It is important to be humble and open to feedback, the trick however is to seek out feedback which is constructive and ultimately makes you a better person and leader. For all the rest, if it isn’t potentially damaging, and it very rarely is, simply ignore it. Focusing on the negative chatter and destructive opinions of others is a waste of your time and energy.
For the criticism that you really feel can’t be ignored, resist the urge for a knee jerk counterattack and practice remaining calm, cool and considered in your response. It's unbelievable how easily some smart and successful leaders fall into the trap of mindless criticism and mud slinging prompted by very little. This is a mistake and reflects badly on you as a leader. A few careless words or actions could haunt you for years to come.
It's take discipline to stay objective and centred. Don't let others negatively influence your thinking or focus.
Finally, don’t fall into the trap of seeking out your critics with the intention of staying informed. It will only serve to frustrate or anger you and your preoccupation with that information will effectively derail your productivity and what should be your current focus.
We are a people that love to observe, judge and critique, whether we are qualified to do so or not is irrelevant. It happens and it always will. It's how you handle it that matters.

9. Practice self discipline

Developing new habits requires self discipline. It takes focus, practice and patience. Fortunately this is a learned behaviour and like a muscle, with regular practice it will become stronger over time and what felt like a struggle at first will soon be very easy to maintain.
However, let things slip and they will keep slipping. Worse still, as a leader, others look to you for guidance and inspiration and they will naturally follow your lead subconsciously accepting it’s ok to let things slip. Practice self discipline and lead yourself and others by example.
A quote from the 6th century Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu sums this up very well.
"Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny."
- Lao Tzu

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