Even successful, high-achieving leaders, like you, wake up with a groan when the alarm clock blares away.
The mental note you’ve etched in your mind many times over – that you “really need to get 7-9 hours of sleep a night” – scratches away at you. Again.
You draw the curtain and it’s still dark outside. The coldness on the other side of the window pane is matched by an empty ache inside your body. You should be feeling something different, something better. But you can’t quite put your finger on this will-o’-the-wisp feeling that you’re yearning for instead. It starts to crystallise, but you peel yourself out of bed.
You catch the reflection of yourself in the bathroom mirror – another glimpse at your reality – and your mind u-turns back to worrying about anything and everything all at once.
You know you’re highly successful – well, at least everyone tells you that. Everyone around you sees your success – your impressive CV, your awards, your job title – yet you sense something’s missing. Your success should bring you joy, right? And yet your heart doesn’t quite feel it. It’s like there’s two of you in the world: the successful leader everyone sees, and the other one that only you see in the mirror.
Despite your success, you question the value you really bring to your team. It’s a struggle to juggle the pace of leadership. Your work commitments make demands on you that feel like obligations. You’ve been on training programmes and courses to help you be better. No matter what you try, sometimes you feel like you’re coasting.
You worry about the toll your job is taking on your health. You’re running on “almost empty” by lunchtime. At your recent check-up, your doctor told you your test results are not good, so you “need to make some changes”. You don’t want to end up with one of those chronic diseases, like diabetes, heart disease, or cancer. You really don’t have the time to manage another thing in your life, but you press on juggling your workload and your wellbeing, knowing which one is likely to win.
Even at home, you feel a pang of resentment when your needs are relegated to what others want. You throw in a dose of guilt, for good measure, when you’re running on “beyond empty” and catch yourself snapping at those you love.
“I just need to get through this week. And then it’ll be fine“, you say to the person you see in the mirror.
Imagine if you woke up with a spring in your step because your job feels like a calling again. You’re clear about the leader you want to be, the value you bring, and the legacy you want to leave. Your CV speaks to your success but your heart feels it too.
Your wellbeing is scoring some wins as well. Your days are full, but not frazzled because, despite the external chaos, you have an inner calm. Your doctor is happy with your latest test results. Your team notices you’re calmer, more present. You handle difficult colleagues and challenging conversations with ease. And you’ve enough in your tank when you get home.
Your success feels worth it.
Your leadership feels effortless.
Both of these leaders have been me. When I was staring at myself in the mirror, I couldn’t see beyond just getting through the next week. It’s not that I didn’t want to change, but big transitions are hard when you’re busy juggling anything and everything.
Success on paper doesn’t feel worth it when you see yourself in the mirror, a reminder of the gap between who you are and who you want to be.
Closing that gap is what Effortless Leadership is about.
Here are the three pillars I’ve discovered that are the foundation for Effortless Leadership from my experience of blending the science of Positive Psychology and Functional Medicine, and coaching professionals and creative entrepreneurs
Over time, I’ll be sharing with you ideas and perspectives about each of these three pillars, and how you, too, can experience effortlessness in what you do.
In the meantime, let me introduce you to these three pillars that have helped me and my clients experience life in a way that feels effortless, especially if you lead others.
Reclaim the joy for what you do
Everyone notices when you show up in the world with joy for what you do.
They notice it in your presence with the energy and vitality that you bring into a room when you have plenty in your tank. They see you focusing on what’s good around you – your team, your values, your mission. You feel the love of your team.
Your days feel full, and you’re in flow, rather than busy and frazzled. You doubt yourself less, and step up to things that you thought were impossible before: the promotion you secured before you thought you were ready; leading your team and your business through transformational change.
Joy is hard to uncover when you’re battling with the daily grind because it crowds out the most important thing to reclaim that joy: awareness.
When I asked one of my clients – let’s call him John – “What brings you joy?”, he couldn’t answer. Despite having the brains and determination to build a successful business, this simple question yielded a fear for John: is everything I’m doing worth it? Where is the joy?
The truth is joy is there, even for John. It just becomes hidden when you let fear rather than awareness take the lead.
What can you do to start reclaiming the joy for what you do?
Reclaiming the joy for what you do starts with becoming aware of what brings you joy. And how do you know that? By focusing on what you need, rather than what you want.
These needs are fundamental human needs that are common to us all, like acceptance, recognition and belonging, rather than “I need a holiday”.
👋 Over to you!
Take a moment to bring some awareness to what you need.
There’s a list of needs you can refer to in this handout.
Think about something you’re frustrated about. Perhaps it’s with a colleague at work or the promotion you want.
Take a look at the list and identify the needs that you have in that situation.
For example, with your colleague, you might have a need for connection, understanding, or respect.
With your promotion, you might need certainty or support.
Discover your capacity to connect to yourself and to those around you
Imagine getting out of bed with a pep in your step, with a brain that functions with clarity, and a body that fuels you with energy without those afternoon or evening dips.
When your brain is functioning optimally, you can be deeply present. People around you feel heard, rather than experiencing you go through the motions of listening. You can respond, rather than react, when you encounter a difficult colleague.
You can also hear yourself, and tap into what’s key to taking action: yes, it’s awareness again.
But when your tank is empty and you look in the mirror in the morning brain fog, it’s a real schlepp to think clearly, let alone show up with equanimity for yourself and everyone around you.
As a high-achiever, you can spend a lot of time learning new skills and tools and developing your knowledge, but what’s the point when you can’t use them when it matters most because you’re too tired, moody, or can’t think clearly?
I’ve noticed in myself – and the professionals and creative entrepreneurs I coach – that often we face disconnection in two key areas: from our health, and from our relationships (without ourselves, and with others).
What can you do to start reconnecting?
It starts with what your brain needs to function optimally: health-first foundations. You most probably already know what these are, but I’ll be sharing more about what they are, and how to build the foundations for your brain and brain healthso that you’re a thriving leader.
Health-first foundations calm your nervous system so your brain can respond, rather than react, and you can tap into the wisdom of your three brains.
They optimise your immune system so you can create connection with those around you.
And finally, they allow you to apply the skills, tools and knowledge you have at moments when it really matters.
The clients I work with are calmer, more resilient, and more confident. They have the energy and mental clarity to focus without the frazzle. And to be present with an open heart when others need them most.
👋 Over to you!
I invite you to start bringing some awareness to the areas in your life where you are experiencing disconnection. Jot down what those are, and what is it that you want to experience instead.
Unlock your courage to change
Imagine believing in yourself so strongly that you stand up to your fears to take a risk that’s worthwhile.
You set a stretch goal – for yourself, your team, or your business – and you dive in, knowing that your experience, judgement and skills are available to call upon when you need them. You are true to the leader you want to be, even in the face of disagreement.
And when you get knocked over you get up, dust yourself off, and come back even stronger.
It’s like that moment in the film Minority Report when Tom Cruise’s character is impersonating the Karate Kid and waxing-on and waxing-off all the pieces of information together from thin air so they appear like a completed jigsaw puzzle in front of him on the see-through glass display.
Everything just falls into place.
It’s frustrating when you’re a high achiever and you’re successful in so many areas – particularly at work – but you just can’t seem to replicate that success in other areas of your life.
Unlocking your courage to change is about getting out of your own way. You see, merely knowing that you want to change, isn’t enough to change. There’s something more that’s needed to transform that into action
How do you start to get out of your own way and unlock your courage to change?
Acceptance is the essential ingredient – often missing – in change. Change becomes hard, or not as lasting, when acceptance is absent. It’s the second step in the Triple-A Formula for Change.
Acceptance is all about tuning into your awareness of what you want and the obstacles to achieving it. Understanding the stories that you tell yourself about the faults you have as a leader now, and creating a new, more compelling story and strategy for the leader you want to be instead.
I’ll come back to explain more about the Triple-A Formula for Change in a future essay.
👋 Over to you!
Let’s bring some awareness to your courage to change. Think about an area where you want to experience change – your health, your work-life integration, the leader you know you can be.
Jot down what obstacles are preventing you from achieving that.
What stories are you telling yourself about it?
As always, I’d love to hear your feedback on this article.
- What did you make of Effortless Leadership?
- What resonated with you?
- What did you find challenging?
- What would you like to know more about?
Let me know in the comments, by email, on Twitter or on LinkedIn.
To your health and success!