Podcast: Leadership Amplitude Episode 10

Take a deep dive into leadership development and team optimization.

Leadership Purpose to Lead Yourself

As leaders, we understand that stress is unavoidable. It is a part of life. In this podcast, we will be exploring how leadership purpose can help you lead yourself, particularly during times of stress. 


Anna Slaydon: One of my favorite quotes is "anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm." Leaders know that the sea is very rarely calm, and the helm is often hard to handle. On this episode, we'll be exploring how leadership purpose can help you lead yourself, particularly during times of stress.

Dr. Chris Smith: One of the things we know is that stress is part of life, and it's unavoidable. In fact, you look at the – and I won't go deep into psychological research, 'cause I'll put the podcast listeners to sleep – but there's a lot of research out there that shows that some amount of stress is required for peak performance. So, you know, what we don't teach here and what we don't advocate is eliminating all stress, because without stress, without some emotion, we'd just be blobs on the couch that didn't get a lot done. But what we need to do to stay on purpose is to manage our level of stress so that we're able to function at a high level and stay on purpose.

One of the ways we help people to manage their level of stress is by talking about and teaching resilience strategies, and resilience strategies are really all about doing those things that help you manage your level of stress. To push the reset button when you do get stressed and allow you to sorta come back to a place of more focus and being on purpose. And so that all sounds very academic, but what we're really talking about is things like exercise. There's a lot of science out there that shows that exercise helps push the negative chemicals out of the brain.

Cortisol and adrenaline and all those things that fill our brain increase stress, and exercise helps push those out of our brain and help us stay in a place of lower stress, and so we can stay on purpose. Things like eating a healthy diet. Things like practicing hobbies that allow you to get outside of what stresses you out during the day and push the reset button. Spirituality for a lot of people is a good resilience strategy. For some people, it's as simple as yard work and mowing the yard.

I know in my case my son and I like to chop firewood when we can, and one of the things that I like about that, that helps lower my stress levels and kinda get my head clear, is that a lot of what I do all day, and a lot of what all of us do all day, you don't see any results. It's delayed gratification. Well, if I'm chopping firewood, the pile gets bigger. That's instant gratification, and that's a good way for me to sorta lower my stress and put me back in a happy place, so when I go back to work, I can be more purposeful, and I can be more positive, and I can be a better leader.

So resilience strategies are an important piece of reducing stress or managing stress so that we can stay on purpose.

Dr. Sally Woods: I love those strategies you're talking about, Chris, and there may be some of our listeners out there that have heard about exercise and diet and hobbies and those sorts of things, and it's easy to go, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that already." There are some other strategies that maybe aren't so common, and one of those that we talk about here at the Leadership Institute – and that many of our clients have talked about it being life changing for them – is a gratitude journal. A gratitude journal is one of those very simple strategies that when used consistently can indeed be life changing in little ways that have huge impact.

By gratitude journal, what we mean is to actually have a journal where you are writing down two or three things that happen in the day that you are grateful for, and having a consistent time in the day, whether it's at the very beginning of the day or the very end of the day, where you take a few moments quietly by yourself to write down a couple of those things that you are grateful for that happened, and why you are grateful for that.

It doesn't have to be positive things; it could be that something very difficult happened during the day, and your gratitude around that is because it helped you learn an important lesson, or helped you finally break through a difficult relationship. What people find is when they consistently use a gratitude journal daily that what they do is during the day, they're looking for things to be grateful for, and that helps someone stay on purpose in a very real way. It's a simple tool, but it is deceptively simple, because it's powerful.

Anna Slaydon: I love that idea, and it sounds like it's really not that complex. You don't even need a whole lot of tools or anything, just maybe one of those spare notepads that we all have sitting all over the office. Make that someplace that you sit down and write that down, and make that a habit, to spend just a few minutes getting your mind in the set of being grateful. Then over time, it sounds like that really spreads out and starts to impact your whole day.

Dr. Sally Woods: It does, and it doesn't have to be big huge things that happened in the day that you're grateful about. I know that most of us here practice this on strategy as well, and Steve Swavely, our boss here of the consultant team at the Institute, he told me one day that I made it to his gratitude journal. That evening before, I can't remember right now what I did, but he had whatever it is that I had done, he was grateful for. Then he told me about it, and then that actually made it to my gratitude journal. So it is –

Anna Slaydon: It's infectious.

Dr. Sally Woods: It is.

Anna Slaydon: Gratitude can be very infectious.

Dr. Chris Smith: It can be, and one thing I wanted to add to what Sally said was when you take your gratitude journals, you reflect on what you're grateful for. Then, as Sally said with the example with our boss Steve, when you go that extra step and actually share what you're grateful for with the people around you that are important, then you're actually increasing your leadership effectiveness just by doing that, because what you're doing is you're causing that person to have a spike in all those positive brain chemicals that we talk about.

So just by sharing with someone why you're grateful for what they did, or that they made it to your gratitude journal, you're being a more effective leader. It's a good tool for reflection and for refocusing yourself, but it's also a good tool for taking care of the people around you. One of the things we talk about here at the Leadership Institute is that at a certain level of leadership you become more focused on leading through relationships than focusing on tasks. We get to a point in our career where we're still good at tasks and we still have to do tasks, but most of what we do is through our relationships with others.

So that gratitude journal gives you an opportunity to not only reflect, but it also gives you a chance to share with others how they had a positive impact on your day, and that helps them be more effective. Keeps them at a positive place, lowers their stress level, so I love the gratitude journal. It's kind of a two-for-one deal. It has a big impact on us as individuals and our ability to be resilient and manage stress and stay on purpose, but it also gives us a very easy and real tool to have a positive impact on the people around us that we're trying to lead.

Anna Slaydon: In reviewing my gratitude journal I found that, just like you said, you start to notice like everything. I have a confession: I love ranch dressing – like that's my thing. And my husband hates ranch dressing, and he does the grocery shopping. After I'd been doing my gratitude journal for a few weeks, I went into the refrigerator and I pulled out the ranch dressing, and I expected it to be empty and it was full. I realized that my husband, even though he does not eat the ranch dressing, that he made sure that when he was prepping for grocery shopping that he shook my bottle and realized it was empty.

'Cause I did not tell him that it was empty, and he went and he got that ranch dressing for me. And I turned around and I'm holding the ranch dressing, and I'm like, "Honey, thank you so much for my ranch dressing." You could just see on his face that, first of all, he was surprised I was thanking him for ranch dressing, and second, you could tell he was like, "Wow – you are very welcome." And y'all, I have never been out of ranch dressing since.

Dr. Chris Smith: Well, that's the value in sharing what you're grateful for with others is it also reinforces that positive behavior. And another thing I love about that story is that's a perfect example again of what we talked about in the first podcast, is this leadership purpose and the strategies we're talking about aren't just about the workplace. These things bleed out into our personal lives and can have a very real positive impact on our relationships outside of work. I think as we all know, if we're happy outside of work, then we're more productive at work.

Dr. Sally Woods: And Chris, that brings to mind that we've been focusing on leadership purpose as it relates to work, but there are other kinds of purposes as well. You can have a leadership purpose and you could also create a purpose for a relationship that's important to you, even in your private life. Maybe it's your relationship that's important and challenged, and so you want to create a purpose about how it is you want to be.

Anna Slaydon: Chris, I was wondering if you could share with us the story about the thermometer.

Dr. Chris Smith: [Laughs] Okay. The example is the thermostat, and so just to put a quick context on it, I'm the guy in the office that is always hot. In fact, we're sitting here in this room recording this right now, and I've got my sleeves rolled up as far as I can roll them and I'm still hot. And I'm looking forward to getting out into some air conditioning, and I look across, and Sally's got on what I think is an Indian pashmina or something like that – a wool wrap around her shoulders.

Dr. Sally Woods: It works.

Dr. Chris Smith: Anna, I don't know what it is you're wearing, but you look like you got a blanket wrapped around you.

Anna Slaydon: It's called a blanket wrap.

Dr. Chris Smith: Called a blanket wrap, okay, I'm learning. I probably should know that, because I think my wife and daughter both have blanket wraps; but I'm hot, and they're obviously not. So the story about purpose as it relates to thermostats is there's another consultant that Sally and I work with who sits right next to me in our office. And he baffles me because he comes into the office and he is always talking about how cold it is, and I'm always thinking to myself, "Is this guy nuts? I am burning up in here" – again, I'm always walking around with my sleeves rolled up.

And so when I'm not on purpose, when I'm not focused, I'll grumble under my breath, "Geez, I can't believe he thinks it's cold in here. I'm burning up. Why didn't he just put a jacket on?" So what that does is when I'm not on purpose, I spin out of control in my head of getting all agitated about his thermostat issue, and, "I can't believe that So-and-so thinks it's cold, and he's going to go tell somebody he's cold and they're going to turn the heat up. I'm going to have to go somewhere else and work, ‘cause I'm hot." It just gets me in this silly, ridiculous place where all I'm thinking about is how I disagree with this other person about the temperature.

Well, it's a silly story, but it happens almost on a daily basis. And what I have to remind myself is that if I take a look on my desk at my leadership purpose that I've got in a little pencil box where I can see it every day, my leadership purpose, again, is to help other people achieve happiness and success as they define it. All right. So instead of griping about the temperature and the thermostat, if my goal is to help other people be successful, then maybe I need to back off and not worry about this thermostat so much. Maybe I need to just recognize that not everybody likes it as cold as I do, and that's just something I have to deal with.

So I wear a golf shirt if I think I'm going to be hot. I go where it's air-conditioned if I am hot. It's a silly little example, but the idea is that if we don't pull ourselves out of those little nagging irritations and get ourselves back on purpose, we can really have a negative impact on our effectiveness as leaders with something as seemingly unimportant as a thermostat, and whether it's 72 or 74 in the office. It's an embarrassing story, but it's a real one.

Dr. Sally Woods: It was a great one, because a lot of the times, people think leadership purpose is all about the big things, when in fact leadership purpose is about all the things. Most of what we do all day long are those little things, those little interactions with people that can lead to big things or big irritations, or big wonderful things.

Dr. Chris Smith: Yeah; and thank you for making my little silly story relevant, and not so silly. But really, I agree. I think sometimes when we think about how to lead effectively, it can seem too big. It can seem too overwhelming if we focus on these grand big goals and actions and sweeping changes we need to make. I think in reality sometimes if we can just shift how we react in the moment in little situations and little interactions, then we can have a profound impact on our relationship with others, and therefore our ability to lead.

Anna Slaydon: Reflecting back on when we had Dr. Steve Swavely here for our first series of podcast episodes, he was talking a lot about engagement in the workplace, and how leaders have to be really aware that they can give off this message and they don't even know it. But either, "It's safe to approach me," or "It's not safe to approach me," and helping people understand how to manage that and be aware how they're impacting people in that environment.

Even though it's just about what temperature is the room, it sounds like if that's happening every day, you can, all of a sudden, give off this huge message of, "Do not approach me. I'm really upset," over something that is maybe not as big of a deal as it ends up becoming over time. But leadership purpose lets you address it personally without having to sit down and really have to work through the conflict of negotiating the temperature of the room.

Dr. Chris Smith: Exactly. Because that's really – I like the way you just described that. It's not an issue that needs to bubble up to confrontation between me and a coworker, if I'm able to just step back and realize, "You know what? This is all about me and the nonsense that's spinning around in my head." If I can step out of that, get myself back on purpose, then it's an easy solution; doesn't have to have negative impact on my relationship. Doesn't have to create this sort of negative energy in the office. I can get back on purpose and just move on.

Anna Slaydon: We hope you enjoyed this episode of Leadership Amplitude. Check out our next episode, when we'll be talking about how you can use your leadership purpose to help you lead others. And have you heard our other episodes? You can find them anywhere you get your podcasts, including iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, and Spotify. You can also subscribe so you don't have to worry about missing a single new episode, and while you're there, it would be great if you could rate and review this podcast.

Rates and reviews help us grow and develop new content, and we would really appreciate your time. For show notes or for additional information, find us at BBTLeadershipInstitute.com. Leadership Amplitude is a podcast production of the BB and T Leadership Institute. All rights reserved.

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