January 13, 2020

How to Work on Yourself While Also Leading Others

by Wendy Ryan in Leadership

We’re forever toggling between different tasks, conversations and focuses. This is a challenge for our external work—what we are paid to do. But it’s even more so for our internal work, namely being mindful and exercising our emotional intelligence.

As leaders, we are charged with paying close attention to and developing other people at the same time as we are expected to be constantly self-aware and self-regulating—all while continuing our own growth. Developing this brand of bimodal vision isn’t easy and is even more difficult to carry out in times of stress and under pressure.

But it’s something we can all get better at doing and must put energy toward if we want to be the most effective leader possible. Doubly so if we want to grow forward-thinking, highly engaged teams. And when we start internally, we can be more in touch with external cues and factors.

Internal Bimodality

Structure your day for downtime. You can’t be fully present in your work or in your own mindfulness if you’re jumping from meeting to meeting, task to task all day long without a break. You can be far more present and focused when you allow some white space in your day and take the time to recharge.

This can look as simple as time-blocking so meetings are at your most productive time of the day or leaving a 15- to 30-minute buffer between each task. This isn’t time to check email or review phone messages; it’s time to sit in your own thoughts, take a quick walk, journal or even meditate.

Monitor how you’re feeling and name it. Feelings aren’t something that many of us learned about and talked about in our families growing up. We learned to identify with angry, happy, excited and disappointed but without ever understanding why we were feeling those feelings or how to talk about them.

It’s easier to identify with others’ feelings when you’re able to name those feelings within yourself. Are you feeling frustrated about something? Acknowledge that and dig in to understand why. There’s so much power in naming our feelings, even if we’re not sharing that with someone else. It allows us to be clear on our own thoughts, so we might eventually be able to help someone else work through similar feelings.

External Bimodality

Start meetings with check-ins. Before you dive into the business at hand, start weekly staff meetings by briefly checking in with everyone present. Ask them to share something they feel challenged by and also what they’re excited about.

Many leaders consider taking 10 to 15 minutes to do this inefficient, but I find that it actually increases productivity and quality of output. We learn so much about team members, how they think, what motivates them and what stresses them by holding space for those insights to surface. And this information is invaluable to working well and efficiently together.

Tune in to what people are saying—verbally and nonverbally. This is easier to do when you have facetime with someone in a meeting or in passing, but it’s still possible to do virtually. You can easily see if someone is struggling with something; it’s in their facial expressions and eye contact. If you’re virtual, tone of voice, how quickly they’re talking and even the words they’re staying can tell you a lot.

It’s important to address changes in communication style to both help teammates feel both heard and valued as members of the team. You could state something like, “I’m noticing you’re quiet today. Is there something you can share about that?” or, “Is there something we need to talk about?” And if you receive an answer like, “No, I’m fine” and you suspect there’s truly something going on, be persistent.

The internal work you do every day on your own or with the help of a coach is what will help you contextualize what’s going on around you with your team members. When you can tap into that, you’ve struck gold with regard to enhancing team communication and effectiveness.

If you’re looking to learn how to be a better leader overall, watch my 8-part video series. In 30 minutes, you’ll have the tools and insight to lead better—right now! Enter your email address below for instant access.

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