To lead ourselves with intentionality, takes tremendous self-management, the ability to pause, and think through potential ‘what ifs’ and resultant consequences. Cohesive, high-performing teams are cognisant of this, and most importantly realise that each team member has a role to play in mobilising the others in the team to ensure that everyone stays focused, is mindful, and leads with intentionality.
My personal mantra for 2021 is “Attitude is Freedom. Intentionality is Everything”. My matra changes in the January of every year. This one has served me well for the first three months of this year.
Whether you are ‘leading yourself’ as a solopreneur or leading a team in a SME (Small Medium Enterprise), or many teams in a multinational business – leadership involves intentional work!
How we ‘show up’ as a Leader is triggered by many ‘moving parts’. The basis of how we show up is strongely correlated with the strengths of the personality style that they were born. I use the Enneagram Personality System to enable Leaders to understand themselves. (An article for another day – ‘Focusing on leading diverse teams of different Enneagram Personality Styles’).
This particular article is focuses on two practical EQ (Emotional Intelligence) based techniques: how to ‘self-manage’, and the importance of applying ‘consequential thinking’.
Self-managing in a pandemic (given the uncertainty) is much easier said than done. Mental strain seems to be at an all time high! I can almost guarantee that as you read this article, you are reflecting on the ways in which you keep yourself ‘buoyant’ during these ‘waves’ of turbulent change. After all, leading with intentionality helps you to recognise the ways in which your attitude and behaviour ‘set the weather’ for your team, to ensure that they can ride the waves of change. As leaders we need to ensure that our team members don’t feel overwhelmed, out of their depth and / or ‘drowning’.
Without exaggerating, there are hundreds of great self-management techniques to improve your self-awareness, and hence your ability to lead with intentionality. I’ll share one technique, which is game-changing for myself and the Exco Leaders with whom I work. I call it the non-negotiable ‘book-end your day’ technique.
Most people’s ‘morning book-end’ is 99% controllable . That in itself starts your day on a good footing, as opposed to the whirling and swirling mayhem feeling of a ‘chaotic start’ to the day. The latter doesn’t pave the way for a productive day.
Instead, try this easy to implement ‘morning ‘book-end’. Simply set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier than the time your family normally wakes up. Nobody can say this isn’t doable. Make sure that you go to sleep 15 mins ealrier, so that you get your (min) 7 hours of sleep per night! Think through what you want to ‘use these 15 mins’ for ? It should be to do something for yourself that is nourishing, fulfilling and feels ‘yummy’ and worthwhile. By way of example, my day starts by me ambling to the kitchen (normally at 04h30 or 05h00) to make a cup of steaming hot, good coffee. This is then followed by an eleven minute meditation, sitting comfortably in my lounge.
It is always good to link your ‘chosen’ morning ritual to a specific ‘place’. Mine is linked to my favourite comfy spot in the lounge, where I feel warm, relaxed and (for most of the year) can see the sun rising – a brilliant way to start my day!
As a reminder : To ‘hard wire’ rituals, and reap the benefits, it is best to be consistent and do them 7 days per week! If I am travelling … I seek out the right comfy ‘spot’ for the next morning … before I go to bed.
My evening ‘book-end’ is my ‘full stop’ to the day. I guess that’s (on average) about 90% controllable for me, as my children are adults. For my ‘full stop’ at the end of my day, I choose to get into a hot, epsom salts bath- taking with me, my gripping / exciting novel. I am never ‘in-between’ books. I always have one or two books lined up. My bathroom is the place where I consciously and intentionally switch-off ‘from my day’. I allow myself to be absorbed in the drama of the novel (normally a true-story, histrory -related human drama) and I completely escape from the stressors of my day. By doing this, I can literally switch off from the ‘irritations’ in my day … like switching off a light. In addition, the water running down the drain (at the end of my bath), is my psychological trigger to remember to say something that I am grateful for … from that particular day. Whether it was good / bad feedback ; a specific key learning or even a small experience in the day.
Another tip : add lavender oil to your bath. This is terrific neuroscience-backed calming trick. I do this daily too.
Applying consequential thinking (ACT) is another leading with intentionality technique. As a member of the Six Seconds EQ Network (in 174 countries), we talk about “emotions driving people, and people driving performance.’ As Leaders, who operate ‘intentionally’ we need to act with purpose and forethought, and one of the enablers for this is ‘pausing’ to look ahead, before you jump in.
ACT takes into account that we can use our emotions and our rational thinking to help us pause, and then to evaluate our choices more effectively. Perhaps you need to ask yourself : ‘What are the implications for myself / others, in both the short term and the long term?’
ACT is one of the eight competencies in the Six Seconds Model of EQ. These are all learnable competencies. This one in particular, is one that I have focused on developing. I run a busy life (like most people) and a business that delivers workshops and programmes for Clients in different time zones. Everything I do aligns with my personal purpose statement – ‘To inspire actionable resilience, for people to live their best, and most optimal life’. I often need to ‘make choices’ and weigh up the Pros and Cons, and for this I need to push the ‘pause button’, so that I can be intentional and responsive, as opposed to reactive and impulsive.
Here are three practical ways to ‘push your own pause button’:
When I am emotionally triggered, and worrying that my rational thinking will go out the window, I know that I need to ‘do something’. As a result, I stand-up and get away from my desk. I go and bounce (for about two minutes) vigorously on my mini-trampoline, which is five meters from my desk, on my veranda. If I am in a meeting room / board room, I will fabricate a ‘bathroom break’. When in the bathroom, I do fifty deep squats (in the cubile if others are around). I try and focus on the counting, so that I give me ‘brain a breather’ and keep cpounting under my breath until I get to fifty! ‘Motion shifts Emotion’. This buys me time to ACT, and to think through my choices and how I potentially want to respond, when I get back to the board room.
If I am working on a project, or trying to re-prioritise my day – I’ll use Dr Caroline Leaf’s breathing technique which is beautifully simple and incredibly practical. I will get up from my desk and walk to the kitchen to get something to drink or a healthy snack. As I walk, I breathe-in (through mr nose) to the count of three and mentally ask myself – “What do I feel?” and “What do I think?”. I then breathe-out (through my mouth) to the count of seven and ask myself (mentally) – “What do I choose?”. I’ll do this breathing / mental clearing technique about three times.
Answers and/or ‘pearls of wisdom’ don’t immediately spring to mind. However, this is what I call the ‘windscreen wiper’ for my brain. I return to my desk and look at the project / task at hand, and it feels like the burst of oxygen to my brain has given me ‘fresh eyes’ (like a clean windscreen) and a new perspective for ‘consequential thinking’. In other words a long-range view of potential ‘consequences’.
Leading with intentionality is multi-faceted and a magnificently broad topic. Hopefully these tried and tested, practical techniques have inspired you to self-manage and pause for long-range thinking, using the Apply Consequential Thinking EQ based competency.
Dr Caroline Leaf is a neuro-scientist specialising in cognitive and metacognitive neuropsychology. Her latest book (released on 2 March 2021) is a must-read: “Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess: 5 Simple, Scientifically Proven Steps to Reduce Anxiety, Stress & Toxic Thinking”