Guest post from Bob and Gregg Vanourek, co-authors of Triple Crown Leadership.
In this season of championship horseracing, we marvel at how some thoroughbred horses contend for the Triple Crown, which has been called the most elusive championship in sports. This ultimate prize in the sport of kings is indeed rare. Since 1875, there have only been eleven Triple Crown champions. To win it, a horse and its racing stable must win three brutally competitive races in different states over five weeks. The thoroughbreds race at distances from one and a quarter miles (in the Kentucky Derby) to a punishing one and a half miles (at Belmont) and with the Preakness in between, against the fiercest competition and in whatever weather and track conditions exist on race day.
We draw an important leadership lesson here: just as thoroughbreds can break down from a punishing racing schedule, so too can leaders, even the heartiest. Some leaders have frenetic schedules of meetings and travel or face constant stress and pressure, sometimes aggravated by crisis. As the effects accumulate over time, exhaustion sets in.
Leaders Must Take Care of Themselves
Though many leaders prefer to just suck it up and ignore the risks, those who want to thrive and endure recognize the potential for damaging consequences to their leadership, including making rash decisions, prejudging situations, and losing their moorings. Our interviews with leaders in sixty-one organizations (including Zappos, Google, eBay, Xerox, Mayo Clinic, and KIPP) in eleven countries confirmed the importance of physical, mental, and emotional health in leadership. General George Patton used to say that all tired men are pessimists. Stephen Rothstein at the Perkins School for the Blind told us, “If the leader doesnt take care of himself or herself, its very difficult to lead other people.”
Most leaders today recognize that they need sufficient sleep, regular exercise, and a healthy diet to work at their best. But few also realize that they need sanctuarypractices and places of peace and renewal that help them decompress, restore perspective, and regain energy for the challenges ahead.
The Importance of Getting Quiet
Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky, co-authors of Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive though the Dangers of Leading, wrote, Having a readily available sanctuary provides an indispensable physical anchor and source of sustenance. Too often under stress and pressed for time, our sources of sanctuary are the first places we give up. Sanctuary can be found through prayer, yoga, meditation, going for a walk or run, dialogue with a friend or trusted advisor, music, art, and more. The key is to drop off the grid and tune out so you can tune in to your inner voice. That requires getting away from distractions and interruptions so you can get quiet.
Effective leadership begins with leading ourselves. Failure to do so leads to all sorts of problems, potentially including poor performance, ethical lapses, impulsive decisions, and damage to our health, judgment, and relationships. We agree with Patricia Aburdene, author of Megatrends 2010: The Rise of Conscious Capitalism, who said, The cornerstone of effective leadership is self-mastery. Now more than ever, leaders need sanctuary.