“Christian, I don’t want to talk about leadership at all — I want to talk about me. Whatever I try in my new role, nothing works. Maybe I’m the wrong person for the job, after all.”
This is how a young partner in a large consulting firm opened our conversation a few weeks ago. He had just taken on a significant leadership role, and we had arranged to meet for leadership coaching.
Many leaders know this feeling, though few go so far as to vocalize it. Perhaps you, too, have experienced moments when things don’t seem to work anymore when tried-and-tested formulas for success suddenly fail. It feels like your leadership career is over — but it is not. Instead, you have reached a critical turning point. It is then that four necessary steps come into play: Reduce speed, Remove, Replace, Restart.
Reduce speed: The shock of an abrupt halt
When driving long distances, an engine becomes hot and needs time to cool down. The same is true of our engine for success. We are used to going full throttle over long distances, investing vast energy in our leadership career and leaving little space for personal reflection. The problem is that such examination is critical in phases of professional transition. It is precisely at these times that we need to invest in ourselves.
“But how do I find time for reflection?” you might ask. Well, suppose there is no space for self-investment in your regular life. In that case, you might need to consider a radical step — a several-day retreat without smartphones and share prices, for example, where the focus is solely on confronting yourself. Such an abrupt stop can shock the system. At the same time, it can open up a spiritual space to process the old so the new can emerge. I have been doing this regularly for many years. Trust me, it works wonders.
Remove: The art of letting go
“You can’t pour tea into a full cup,” the old Zen saying goes. Information fills our heads. We have no spare capacity for absorbing new things and no scope for embracing change. From time to time, therefore, it can be worthwhile to examine the “expiration date” of our accumulated knowledge and to clear out and dispose of what no longer serves us.
The tricky part is that this often means disposing of the habits and principles that have made us successful thus far. This appears inherently paradoxical. In his book of the same name, Marshall Goldsmith coined this principle as What Got You Here Won’t Get You There (Goldsmith 2007). Breaking old habits can require active unlearning.
Replace and reframe: Stop ruminating, start dreaming
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” Many of us will be familiar with this quote from French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in his posthumously published work Citadelle (1948). We need a powerful personal vision for the future before we can think about the practical elements of change.
Recent research shows that lasting change almost always begins with positive questions: those that engage with opportunities, dreams, hopes and our personal vision (Boyatzis, 2019). Instead of ruminating on past mistakes, make an effort to ask yourself regularly: What is my ideal self? Where do I want to be in 3 to 5 years? Start drawing a tangible picture of your ideal future.
Restart: Start your personal revolution today!
History teaches us that the Reformation, the significant movement in Western Christianity in 16th-century Europe, did not begin in Rome but in the small town of Wittenberg in Germany, more than 900 miles away from the Italian capital. Radical change often starts on the periphery rather than at the center. The same applies to personal transformation.
If you are serious about seeking personal change, start your personal revolution today. Buy a book on a subject you wouldn’t usually read about. Commit to a project that’s not in your area of expertise. Venture to the bounds of your existing networks and start talking to new and different people. Consciously move out of your comfort zone and see what happens. I can guarantee that you will be positively surprised.
As leaders, it’s important that we set a healthy tone for our teams. If you find yourself in constant motion, tap the brakes to reduce your speed and start reflecting on what you could do differently. By making space for personal reflection, letting go of information we no longer need or use, dreaming about the future and committing to personal change, our future possibilities are endless.
Christian Greiser is an executive coach and management consultant. He guides thought leaders, decision-makers and entrepreneurs on personal development journeys, helping them determine their values, talents and strengths. Originally published in German, his book, Remove, Replace, Restart: The Essential Maintenance Manual for Your Engine for Success, will be released in English in October 2023. Visit his website to learn more.
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