Leadership Longevity (Four Things Every Leader Needs)

No leader sets out to burn out.

A marathon runner doesn’t leap off the starting line hoping they might just make it to the 25km mark. They prepare, train and visualise themselves crossing the finish line. They aren’t just there to start, they are there to finish.

In the same way I can’t imagine any person steps into leadership thinking “I wonder what I can do to drive myself into the ground”. Longevity is every leaders goal.

Leadership is both a privilege and a burden. It is an incredible opportunity that demands high responsibility. But life is also unpredictable. Leaders aren’t afforded the luxury of hanging up their leadership hat every time life throws a curveball. We need to learn how to navigate all seasons, much like the captain at the helm of a ship through turbulent waters.

I’m not saying that I’ve got this right all the time, in fact, I’ve got it very wrong at times and suffered the consequences.

Staying fresh and leading for the long haul takes intentional effort. It requires intentional decisions. I have four key spaces that I need to regularly engage in that I would suggest every leader needs also:

1. A Bed

We need a space to rest.

A good nights sleep is underrated. In the book “Are You Fully Charged”, author Tom Rath unpacks research to suggest that losing 90 minutes of sleep can reduce daytime alertness by nearly one third. Going further it suggests that four hours of sleep loss can produce as much impairment as a six pack of beer. “An entire night of sleep loss is equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.19”. Yet sleep is often one of the first things leaders sacrifice.

Less sleep does not mean more productivity. A bed is not just symbolic of sleep, it is a picture of rest and relaxation. Rest is not a dirty word for high caliber leaders, it is critical to their long term success.

2. A Table

We need a space to connect.

The saying may go “it’s lonely at the top”, but it doesn’t have to be. Leadership longevity isn’t found in isolation. In their article “Burnout at Work Isn’t Just About Exhaustion. It’s Also About Loneliness” Emma Seppala and Marissa King suggest that “there is a significant correlation between feeling lonely and work exhaustion”. Operating from a place of loneliness and isolation can have devastating consequences for a leader and their organisation.

A table is symbolic of connection. It is a place where we share meals with friends and family, play board games, celebrate and engage in authentic conversation. We all need a space like that to connect.

As a leader this may look like regular dinner with friends and family or even joining a professional network. Whatever it looks like for you, don’t do the journey alone.

3. A Chair

We need space to think, grow and learn.

When was the last time you were alone with your thoughts? When did you last set time aside to think about an idea or learn a new concept?

A HBS study undertaken in the UK found that commuters who used their commute to think about and plan for their day were happier, more productive, and less burned out than people who didn’t. Learn to be alone and intentional with your thoughts.

A chair is symbolic of a place to sit, think, reflect grow and learn. That may be a chair on a train, a park bench or a comfortable couch in your own home. Being intentional with time to think, process and reflect is key to leadership longevity.

4. A Lamp

We need a space to do things that light us up

A lamp is symbolic of the things that light you up. What fills your emotional and energy bucket? What peaks your creativity and fills you with ideas? What causes you to lose yourself in the moment and forget about time?

When was the last time you did that?

Everyone is different. So what lights me up will look different to what does it for you. One of the biggest obstacles leaders need to overcome in this area is that feeling like you ‘should be doing something else more important’. This thinking suggests that investing in your own self care is not valuable, which could not be further from the truth.

Take a minute to reflect on these spaces. How often do you engage in them? What needs to change?

If you feel like you’ve been taken out at the 25km mark of your race. It’s ok to get back in and start running again. You’re not eliminated or disqualified from the race. Treat your wounds, take it slow and find your rhythm again. We are in this together and we are in it for the long haul.