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Breathe in as well as out

Everyday Leader is one year old. Setting up a business from scratch is no mean feat and does require a lot of hard work. Many people will give you wise advice like, “unashamedly milk your contacts,” or “you need to put the hard work in,” or “people buy you so be positive and smile a lot.” All of these are useful top tips. But there is one important thing that a very wise friend of mine taught me that not only holds true for a startup, but holds true for life.

In order to ‘Inspire’, you need to ‘In-spire’.

‘Inspire’ or ‘inspiration’ has its root meaning in ‘to breathe in’ to breathe into your life something new, something that potentially energises or helps you see something new. As leaders, part of our role is to bring inspiration to the team, to provide vision, direction, purpose and an energy to head to the goal. Any leader who has tried to do this, knows that it takes a lot of energy and perseverance to do that. And therefore in time it can drain you as the leader. Therefore, in order to ‘inspire’ well you need to invest in yourself in moments of ‘in-spiring’, breathing in.

In simple terms, it’s like taking a car on a long journey. Preparation at the start by checking oil, water, tyres etc. is crucial. You are ready for the journey, but drive that car constantly at speed without stops for resting the engine, resting the driver, engine checks and topping up of fuel and you will pretty soon have either a crash or a mechanical failure.

As leaders, we can be fooled into the ‘social media’ myth that everyone else is doing it effortlessly, constantly and better than ourselves. Now some may be, but a good leader knows when it it time to recharge energy, recharge thinking and value yourself. It is one of the best examples we can give to those who follow us.

So how do you do that?

1) Give Permission

Firstly, give permission to yourself. Recognise it will make you a better leader and last longer. Secondly give permission to those close to you to tell you when to recharge. My wife will tell me when it is time to take a break, but encourage your family to also ask you if you have recently had some thinking or reading time.

2) Reading

Since becoming a consultant, I have given myself permission to buy a leadership book each month. If I am going to inspire others, I need to extend my thinking. I was chatting to an ex-colleague the other day and said that since reading I have realised that I now know more of the theory behind leadership . . and I now know why I led well!

3) Twitter, TED & Podcasts

There are lots of good podcasts out there to extend thinking. I know many leaders that don’t enjoy reading and so this is the way to gain the thinking. Go to Youtube and any talk by Simon Sinek or Matthew Syed will be a good starting place. TED talks are another great place to stimulate thinking. Just type in leadership on the Ted website and there is a feast of listening. Twitter is a good place to start stimulating thinking. You may not agree with everything but it stimulates your thinking to what do you believe.

4) Coaching

We all have good intentions of stopping and having some thinking time, but then the next urgent thing takes over. By finding someone to coach you and putting time in your diary, it makes you set aside time. A good coach will ask questions that helps you clarify thinking. From first hand experience, Linden Learning have some excellent coaches. For those in education, Viv Grant of supports school leaders. You can also try Jacqui Frost or give Everyday Leader a call.

5) Network

When I was a headteacher, one of the most powerful ‘in-spire’ was my time with my Triad. This was 3 of us, with similar years’ service as headteachers, meeting up to discuss ideas and research together. Finding people willing to share and challenge thinking can really hone ideas and give confidence. In my case I now count Anna and Shaun as some of my best friends. As business leaders taking time to talk in network coffee sessions, going not with the attitude of winning business but of sharing thinking can again reap dividends. For those leading in the charity or ministry sectors, meeting with those who share the same ministry can encourage and bring new thinking.

6) Sleep

Don’t underestimate the impact of good sleep. When I started leading, I took great pride on how I could do weeks on end with little sleep. It was foolish thinking. With less sleep, our brains are not so productive and falling asleep at the laptop brings no prize for valour . . only a mysterious range of letters and characters that end up in the email. Sleep refreshes the brain and helps thinking and decision making.

In my role as a consultant, a trainer and coach, I see too many leaders looking exhausted, doing long hours and failing to take time to refuel their minds and their bodies. This will lead only one way, in a collapse or crash, and in the long run it will do more damage to your organisation and you.

Breathing requires breathing in and out. Inspiring is the same, you need to breathe in, in order to breathe out. Go breathe my friends.

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