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January 29, 2016

The Key to Effective & Compassionate Leadership.

Emanuele Maria Bonafiglia/Flickr

Several years ago, a friend of mine returned to a company he’d worked for previously. The company was under new ownership, and he saw potential for new direction.

Over the years, his role grew and he took on more leadership as he was placed in charge of more departments.

He was used to being involved in daily operations, but as more responsibilities were place on him, he was struggling to find enough time to get it all done. He started handing off some of his previous duties to other employees. He entrusted others to train new employees. He worked long hours trying to get everything done.

The more he moved into his new role, the more he started noticing more mistakes happening—and with increased frequency. He worked longer hours to fix the mistakes. He found his health declining, since he had little time to exercise or eat regular (and healthy) meals.

His frustration and stress levels increased. A low grade fear that he was failing began to infiltrate his thoughts daily.

Balance starts within.

How many of you reading this recognize this story? Imbalance often leaves us grasping for something external, a way to numb insecurity and fear with food, exercise, alcohol, drugs, video games, shopping or television.

Balance has to begin within.

The first step is to center and become grounded. Start every day with five to 10 minutes of silence. This is challenging for most people, because their mind doesn’t like quiet. I get it. That’s why I like to give the mind an assignment, such as adding gratitude to the mix. I pick three things, big or small, that I am grateful for in the moment. There have been times the only thing I can think of is “toenails.” For my friend, it was “having a job, even if it’s crazy.”

Gratitude creates a perspective shift to what’s in the glass from what’s not in the glass. Throughout the day, a return to this stillness—even for three slow, deep breaths—and seeing if there is anything in that moment to which you can extend your gratitude. This mindfulness will help shift the craziness back into a more manageable state.

Balance requires creativity.

Nothing kills creativity like drama, chaos or fear. It is easy to get into a rut of problems having a limited number of solutions because your flow state is limited. Yet when we’re able to look at the problem from a bigger picture, there may be more solutions available. Opening the flow starts by taking a step back from the insanity and saying to ourself, “Show me what I am missing.” It’s not so different from when we’re rushing around, searching everywhere for our keys when all along they’ve been in our hand. The creativity and solutions are always there, but sometimes the focus is so narrowed that it is overlooked.

Likewise, it’s far easier to ask someone else to solve our problem than to find the solution ourself, which cuts off creativity. When we seek solutions from others or blame others for our situation, we give our power away.

Take a pause to look at your part in the problem, and then seek solutions: “What am I doing or not doing that is contributing to the problem?” Sometimes that requires dropping your own expectations of how others should be and seeing them as they are, which allows you to redirect your energy more effectively and efficiently.

Brené Brown writes in Rising Strong: The reckoning, the rumble and the revolution about a question her therapist asked her that then drove Ms. Brown’s research: “Are they doing the best they can?” Right now, think of someone you’re supposed to be leading who is frustrating or challenging you and ask this question.

In the moment, most people are doing the best they can, including us. This is true even if the potential and capacity for better isn’t being met; in the moment, there’s a reason for the limitation. By taking a pause to ask if we or the person we’re experiencing frustration with is, indeed, doing the best they can, we give ourself a moment to pivot to looking at what is needed then, in this moment, to help tap that capacity and potential.

If we allow a little space for accepting others (and ourselves) as they are in that moment, verses how we expect them to be, we practice compassion. This opens up our ability to communicate without the blame, shame and guilt that stifles communication. The shift directs the conversation to the actions, as opposed to the person, and opens room for dialogue rather than shutting the person down because they feel they are being attacked.

Balance requires trust.

A balanced leader has vision and trusts their instincts. How many times have you had a gut feeling about a situation or a person and dismissed it only to realize your instinct was on the mark and cost time, energy and money?

Our body knows what is true and what is not. We may not know why in the moment, but we know when something is off, because we feel it. Our body will in some way contract—muscles tighten, stomach or chest clench, hairs raise. Alternatively, we’ll know when something is true because we’ll feel an expansion within our body—we breathe deeper, get goosebumps, feel lighter and our heart may race a little.

When you feel your instincts kicking in, and it may go against the grain, you can press your feet down to the ground, inhale and say to yourself, “I am,” and as you exhale, say, “here now.” Do it three times. This brings you into the present moment, which your brain may have been trying to bypass in order to feel safe and accepted.

In the present you can ask yourself, “Is what I am feeling true?” Pay attention to the contraction or expansion you feel in your body. If you feel an expansion that it is true, trust your gut and speak up.

Staying balanced.

When there are a million things going on, sometimes it’s easy to forget to check in. Balance starts with a solid foundation. Lead yourself first by taking time every day to get quiet, tune in and turn on. Carry that foundation through your day to make trustworthy decisions. Trust yourself, listen closely to your intuition. Practice gratitude and compassion, both for yourself and your employees. As you balance yourself, you lead by example. Encourage others to start tuning in and building self-trust, gratitude and compassion.

My friend started practicing these tips. He shared with me that his employees are communicating with him better, those who are ill-fitted for their jobs are leaving or requesting to be reassigned, and he feels more confident to voice his own needs to his boss who has been tremendously supportive of his requests, even surprising him with unexpected support. My friend’s flow opened, his creativity is soaring, and his relationships at work are improving. His life outside of work is also balancing out, as he is making time to exercise and spend time with his significant other.

Whether you are a CEO or a solopreneur, a team member or a stay-at-home parent, you are a leader, and you need balance. These tips can work if you’re willing to try them. Leave a comment below and share your experience.

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Author: Wendy Reese

Editor: Toby Israel

Image: Emanuele Maria Bonafiglia/Flickr // Mr Seb/Flickr

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