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What Effective Leaders Always Do Before Responding to a Challenge

A lot of people I know are between jobs these days. So today’s scientific leadership article is aimed both at leaders in role as well all of us in that universal role of life – leading and managing ourselves.  

Last week, I injured my back last week due to some faulty rowing equipment. Sitting here now, I regret going out on the water that day and don’t like being less mobile and active. I’m feeling dismay, regret, frustration – and this over a treatable and temporary situation. 

I’m going “below the line.” 

Meaning – I feel like circumstances are beyond my control and I wish my current reality were NOT my current reality. It’s an understandable response, totally human, and yet I don’t want to stay in this mental and emotional state.

Since I’m a practical problem solver (and you probably are too) this would seem to be the moment to bring possible solutions. Believe me, I got them. But wait – there’s one step first. 

Acknowledge and accept the troubling situation. 

Not accept in the sense of not wanting to change but accept in the sense of I’m here, this is what’s happening – and let myself feel whatever it is that I feel.  

I do it by pausing – body and mind – and take a few deep breaths. Uncomfortable emotion arises. I don’t talk it away. Instead of taking me over, it softens a little. 

Maybe now there’s a clear spot to think about what I want to do. 

Maybe I’m “above the line” again. 

…and ready to turn my attention to the the ladder of self leadership.

We will always find ourselves in situations that are troubling or frustrating. The question is how do we react, lead ourselves and take care of ourselves. The self awareness to do this is foundational for all types of leaders – and a great life skill.  

My goals in that short breathing and feeling moment is to move myself on the leadership ladder from -1 “victim” to 0 “curious”. I’m open to take in the situation and make decisions about how to respond to it.  

I find the -1 to 0 move hard to do just by thinking, and it works better to pay attention to your body and emotions:  breathe/feel the emotions/stand up/walk around the room/check if you are hungry or thirsty and eat or drink.

Once you are feeling calm and clearer, asking these questions may help you better understand the troubling situation:

  • What is true for me? – considering both facts and emotions
  • What do I not know?  – highlights what is uncertain in the situation and what assumptions you are making
  • What is mine to do? – choosing when to take action and when to hold off

On a tough day, you might find yourself running this exercise several times. After getting clearer about the situation with my back, I got a stressful email. Sigh. Good thing we’re used to running experiments over and over again. 

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