Last week, I had the opportunity to spend two days absorbing nuggets of leadership wisdom from top experts at the Global Leadership Summit. Simulcast to hundreds of sites throughout the world, this annual showcase of leadership thought leaders provided a fire hose of insight and encouragement for the leaders in attendance. One fellow attendee, who follows this blog, commented that she couldn’t wait to see what I wrote about this week. Clearly, there was much rich content to chose from, but my biggest take away was not what any one speaker said, but what I felt during the event.
I felt thirsty. Well, actually, I didn’t realize I was thirsty until I started to drink in the suggestions, support and insight offered by those who took the stage. It’s not that I, and probably many of you, don’t have a full awareness of the need to drink in new knowledge and refresh one’s thinking. It’s just that we are so busy with the day-to-day tasks of leadership — of supporting others, striving toward important goals, and positioning our organizations to respond to the challenges before us — that it is easy for leaders to unwittingly go extended periods without replenishing themselves, and building up their reserves.
So how do leaders make sure that they stay “well hydrated” in terms of their own growth and development?
First and foremost, they need to give themselves permission. This sounds simple, but many leaders are wired to meet the needs of others first — taking a “leaders eat last” perspective — and it feels less urgent and/or selfish to prioritize time for growth and reflection for themselves. It’s not. There’s a reason that airlines advise parents to put on their oxygen masks first.
Secondly, it needs to be a regularly scheduled — and guarded — time on your calendar. It is one thing to pencil it in, but if you approach your own development as an optional appointment that can be bumped at the first sign of a conflicting demand, it simply won’t happen. You will always be too busy.
Also, it is important to shake things up from time to time. I do a lot of reading and reflection on leadership topics. It is less common for me to listen to podcasts or attend seminars. Perhaps that is why the summit was so impactful for me last week — it was like using a different muscle, and so the information stuck with me in a different way.
Finally, I think the answers we are searching for as leaders shift along with our circumstances. As Heraclitus noted, you never step in the same river twice. The opportunities and challenges before us change from day to day, and so we become thirsty in new and different ways. Thankfully, there are lots of ways that we as leaders can stay hydrated. We just have to recognize the importance of staying hydrated . . . and then drink up.