You cannot lead by accident. Great leaders may be discovered in the midst of crisis or great need. However, effective leaders are not accidents of their circumstances or mere benefactors of those who would elevate others to high positions.
Effective leadership is a result of intentional effort and great trial. You must work to be a leader and leaders must exercise to develop mental, physical, and spiritual strength.</p?
On February 3, I published an article called Leadership Workout. In that article, I addressed three key points. It is important for leaders to:
- develop mobility so that they can apply their skills in various daily settings,
- develop strength so that they can lead through difficult problems and situations, and
- exercise their leadership skills to prevent crises.
These are the same reasons people need to exercise their bodies, too. People need a regular physical workout to develop mobility and strength and to prevent disease and other maladies. In the close of my February 3 article, I promised a future article about leadership workouts. Healthy people and healthy leaders take care of not just their physical body, though. They also build their mind and spirit. In this article I’ll address how leaders develop mental strength. In the future, I’ll address the physical and spiritual health of leaders.
What is mental strength and how does a leader “workout” to develop mental strength? Mental strength for a leader is a matter of keeping the mind sharp, full of fresh ideas, flexible for seeing problems in unconventional ways, and resilient. Effective leaders know that the first battle of leadership is in the mind. To win this battle leaders must regularly engage in mental workouts consisting of several exercises.
Discover New Ideas
One of the greatest assets of leaders is curiosity. Leaders must leverage this curiosity to discover new and developing ideas within their field of expertise. No discipline is a static body of knowledge. There are always new approaches, new interpretations, and new information to explore. Mentally strong leaders need to regularly engage in these new ideas by interacting with other leaders, attending conferences, reading journals, and other activities.
Embrace Contrary Viewpoints
Of the four “exercises” listed here, this is certainly the most difficult. Embracing contrary viewpoints means more than hearing out opposing positions. It means seeking deep understanding and appreciation for the viewpoints of others given their own station in life. This is difficult because we naturally seek out others whose views are similar as a means to strengthen confidence in our own position. Effective leaders, though, find confidence and strength in knowing not only their own position, but also the deeply held convictions of others. I have a friend who is a practicing Wiccan. As an evangelical Christian, I have enjoyed our conversations for their effect in helping me to see how others view our world and what I must understand to be a stronger leader to people of varying faiths.
Solve Challenging Problems
This is where mentally strong leaders get to apply new ideas and leverage knowledge of others viewpoints. Effective leaders seek out the problems that others claim are the most difficult and perhaps even unsolvable. The Center for Creative Leadership’s leadership development model has as one of its key components the need for leaders to engage in challenging opportunities. The phrase “no pain, no gain” applies to leadership, too.
Expand Your Horizons
Finally, perhaps the most often overlooked exercise for mentally strong leaders is the need to expand your horizons into new disciplines and areas of interest. My trainer, Tony, mixes up my exercise routine each time he visits. This is important so that my muscular system gets stretched and strengthened in new ways. It is important for leaders to develop mental strength by exploring new disciplines, too. Lately, I’ve been reading a book on math in addition to my business reading. I find it refreshing and sometimes I get ideas for new ways to look at my leadership problems. Here is a list of other disciplines to consider: history, medicine, technology, law, politics, art, language, culture, education, agriculture, finance, spirituality, military, music, …
Effective leaders must be very intentional in developing their mental strength. By discovering new ideas, embracing contrary viewpoints, solving challenging problems, and expanding your horizons, you will exercise that mental muscle and become a much more effective leader! It is very easy to develop a rut. In fact, the longer we cruise in our rut, the deeper it gets making it harder to see what is up on the surface. The longer we stay in a rut, the more comfortable and smooth that ride gets.
Very often, the only thing that pulls leaders out of the rut is running into a rock embedded in the path. These are those surprises you didn’t see coming. (Loss of a client. Closing a plant. A lawsuit. Death of a key team member. Internal sabotage.) We’ve all experienced the shock of hitting these rocks. It hurts and it takes a lot of time to recover. The leadership exercises above will keep you out of ruts and able to see many of the rocks before they become obstacles.
What do you do to stay mentally strong? What exercises should be added to this list?