How long can you hold your breath? Most people think they can hold their breath about a minute. Try it. Go ahead and try it right now. (I won’t go anywhere.) … How’d you do? Probably a lot less than a minute. It’s been awhile since I played this game and I overestimated how long I could hold my breath, too. (Just 45 seconds before I gave up.) When I was a kid, my friends and I used to see who could outlast the others at this trick. I think it’s a game almost every kid plays. (Well, boys do anyway — any girls want to comment on this?) Did you know that the strategy most of use to win this game is all wrong? Our natural tendencies for winning at breath-holding are wrong.
Some of our natural tendencies for leading are wrong, too.
Let’s go back to breath-holding for a moment: One of my favorite blogs is The Art of Manliness by Brett and Kate McKay. Recently, they posted an interesting article “How to Hold Your Breath Like a Deep-Sea Freediver.” It may sound silly, but the article is actually quite interesting because it explores the historical and cultural roots of this skill, as well as the modern, scientific understanding of how to excel at holding your breath. Click on the link above for the article and then come on back here. The comments below will make more sense if you do.
See? I told you that was a good read.
One of the insights that struck me is that the natural tendency to take several quick breath cycles (hyperventilating) to start out the breath holding is wrong. I don’t know if we do it because it’s what we see others do, or if it’s really what actually seems right. The point is that all the natural and common wisdom on the subject is wrong.
The second thing that struck me is that there comes a point in holding your breath when it seems impossible to go on. The pain becomes great and your diaphragm actually convulses. However, by continuing to hold on your body releases up to 15% more oxygen-rich blood from the spleen. Amazing!
The third thing noteworthy from this article on how to hold your breath is that there are known, learnable, and achievable techniques to increase your capacity to hold your breath to three to five minutes. You can dramatically increase your capacity by learning and practicing some simple techniques.
The same goes for leadership.
Sometimes, what seems natural in leading people is all wrong. When there’s conflict, the natural tendency is to avoid it, hide it, or appease the parties. When you receive criticism, the natural tendency is to defend yourself. When a tremendous success is realized, the natural tendency is to identify your own role in it first. When a problem comes to light, the natural tendency is to answer from your own knowledge and experience first and only.
There are many “natural tendencies” in leadership. Most of them should be kept in check if not avoided altogether. Each leader has a unique set of most common and most impacting natural tendencies. You must be highly self-aware and have the counsel of close advisors to identify and contain them.
When leading gets painful, don’t quit. I love to lead. I find great joy in working with people and helping them succeed. It is incredibly gratifying to see people grow and become more completely what God designed them to be. Sometimes, this involves deep, gut-wrenching pain. Leading others includes painful disappointments, losses, fights, and transitions. Sometimes it stinks.
You can’t quit when it hurts. Persisting, carrying on through the pain results in a new release of energy and often the acquisition of new wisdom.
You can learn to be a better leader. Leading is hard. Very hard. Leading is very, very hard. But we can learn to be better leaders. We can increase our capacity and effectiveness in leading by studying and practicing various leadership skills. We all know there is a plethora of books, articles, seminars, and yes, blogs on leadership. One of the most effective ways to improve your leadership skills is to study leading with other leaders. Work as a team to grow.
Can anyone learn to be a great leader? Well, I think anyone can improve their leadership skills from where they are today. Can everyone learn to be a great leader, though? No, I don’t think so. Nevertheless, everyone can improve.
Often, being a great leader requires fighting what comes naturally. Ask your team for feedback using these four questions:
- In my role as a leader, what are my common tendencies that undermine my own effectiveness or the effectiveness of others?
- What habits do I have that serve to erode trust in relationships on this team?
- What do I do that encourages you and others to carry on?
- What would you like to see me do in the future that would help you be a better leader?
With your team’s help, you can identify the natural tendencies that are destructive to your leadership and those that build success for all.
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.