Not long after I got my driver’s license, I was running errands with my dad. We finished up at a stop, and I was preparing to exit the parking lot, heading right into the bane of a new drivers existence – the dreaded left-hand turn.
I sat for what seemed like an eternity waiting for an opening. I was nervous, traffic was heavy, and there just wasn’t a break where I felt safe. By this time, other cars were piling up behind me. Then dad said – “are you ever going to go?” At that point, I punched it.
In my haste, I didn’t see two cars barreling down on me. I almost T-Boned one of them. They both hit their brakes hard and swerved to avoid me. Skid marks were everywhere. Miraculously, there was no accident.
As a new driver, this was an important lesson – look both ways! While terrifying, this experience made me a better driver.
“Look both ways” is also an important lesson for leaders.
The core of our leadership is our influence. As leaders, we typically think about our influence on others, but influence is a two way street – with two way traffic. We influence others. They influence us.
Additionally, we are inundated with information. Radio, TV, news, articles, road signs, social media, Internet ads and more. It never ends. In fact, a friend of mine in the media business told me that we are exposed to around 2,400 such impressions daily.
All this impacts us. Some of it at a conscious level, and some of it sub-consciously. As leaders, then, we need to be aware of and manage these inputs. Since our leadership begins with who we are, if we allow our “who” to be negatively affected, it will undermine our impact.
Here is a personal example. During the pandemic, I started watching, listening to and reading more news. Like most, I was concerned and wanted to learn as much as possible. The news, however, quickly became very repetitive. It also quickly became very contentious.
What began as purposeful healthy desire to learn soon took an unexpected left turn. Directly into oncoming traffic. This time, I didn’t avoid the collision.
Over several months, I found myself becoming more irritable, more lethargic, more frustrated, more discouraged and more isolated. I also found myself becoming less enthusiastic, less focused, less engaged, less driven to achieve and significantly less productive. And I was blind to it.
Thankfully, this was short lived. Several people close to me had noticed the change in my behavior. One of them invited me for coffee, shared what he had observed, and quickly helped me pinpoint the problem. It was easy at that point to take corrective action.
I now perform a simple monthly “tune-up” that I’d like to share with you.
First, I schedule a few minutes to do a “gut check.” How am I feeling overall? What has been positive? What has been negative? Do I need to make any adjustments? This typically takes me five or ten minutes.
Second, I refuse to be isolated. I check in with my friend for a few minutes each month and we compare our “gut checks” to help each other stay on course.
We all have have blind spots, and someone who knows us well can help us identify them before they become problematic.
Creating good boundaries around what we allow into our lives will help preserve and sustain our leadership impact. Those who benefit from your leadership will thank you.