Article written by Gene Mage, Executive Director of Belmont's Center for Executive Education
Leadership is not for the faint of heart. It’s a full-contact sport that demands full physical, mental, emotional and spiritual engagement to do well. That’s why it is not for everybody and should never be entered into lightly.
In our own strength, none of us are really equipped to handle the impossibly high standards set for us as leaders. Committed leaders with the skills and temperament to lead can, however, thrive if they are not leaning too hard on their own abilities.
Put another way, every excellent leader has an excellent support network. That support structure helps him or her thrive physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It’s that network of relationships that comes around the leader away from the workplace to offer support, encouragement and guidance so that the leader can show up in the workplace in a way that’s helpful.
If you are dependent on your work environment for support, you are really co-dependent and cannot function with integrity. For example, if you are depending on the people around you at work to shore you up emotionally, heaven forbid you ever have to make an unpopular decision. You just cannot allow your emotional temperature to be set by the people around you at work. As author Seth Godin and others have advised, “Be a thermostat, not a thermometer.” But to be a thermostat, that is, one who sets the emotional temperature rather than one who just picks up the tone of others, you have to be getting support outside the work environment.
So who’s in your support network? Are you surrounded by a small group of people with integrity who you can vent to, confess to and work things out with, or do you come home as the proverbial dump-truck and unload your workplace conflicts onto your significant other or unsuspecting social circle? Have you got successful role-models outside your organization who can mentor you and challenge you and encourage you, so you can bring something great to your workplace on Monday?
Without a support network, you are a really risky proposition. Leaders without strong people around them to hold them accountable begin to believe their own press releases. Solo flyers buy into the little voice of their own ego that says, “You’re the smartest one in the room…don’t listen to those little people.” Once you become a god unto yourself, without outside accountability, you are an ethical time bomb just waiting for the right temptation to draw you into those murky shades of grey, when you sacrifice your character on the altar of “winning.”
Want to do one thing this week that will revolutionize your world? Shore up your support network. Find 3 people you really trust who will be your personal “master-mind” group. Get together and be open and honest, give each other permission to tell the truth, and love each other unconditionally because heaven knows you’re not going to get that in the workplace, nor should you.
One of my favorite quotes about leadership and learning is from Dr. Howard Hendricks, who says, “You cannot impart what you do not possess.” Get fed outside of work so you’ve got something to give to others.