image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThis would be easy if it weren’t for the people. -from my first book with Rich Petro, Practical Lessons in Leadership.

From about the six-month mark out of college and for all but eighteen months of the next twenty-two years, I supervised, managed and cultivated my leadership skills in a variety of different technology and software firms. While I loved and still do love the challenge and responsibility for guiding and developing others, the work (including the actual running of the business) was and is demanding and draining. I learned over time that I could only be at my best for others if I took care of my own refueling needs first.

Leaders might eat last, but care and feeding of the leader’s spirit must come first or everyone suffers.

9 Ideas to Help You Refuel Your Leadership Spirit:

1. Tune-in to the real purpose of your role. Like the radios I grew up listening to, the signal on why we lead occasionally drifts. In my case, it took a long time to gain any real clarity around my actual purpose in the role. As it was described, I was like an automaton, watching, pushing, driving and likely annoying everyone in my wake. I suspect I was the classic “Type A” manager with a hint of the micro-manager mixed in for bad measure. I was also exhausting myself and I am sure, everyone around me. Once I refocused on just three items: talent, professional development and working environment, I found more energy and interestingly, so did everyone else. And you never forget when your boss says, “It’s great to show everyone that you’re not just a machine.”

2. Develop a daily refueling habit. Mine is reading for 15-minutes before things kick into gear. Every single morning, I learn one item or generate one new idea because of the reading. I keep a log in Evernote and draw upon the ideas as needed. Today’s buzzword is mindfulness, which seems an awful like focus and meditation. If it works for you, the label doesn’t matter. Whatever you have to do, find a way to give yourself a daily jolt of context about what’s really important.

3. Improve your physical fitness. The mind and body are inextricably linked. Too many of us sacrifice our physical conditioning and development on the altar of work. Fortunately, many organizations are starting to recognize the hard and soft benefits of a fit workforce and helping out with this challenge. The mental dividends from physical exertion are priceless, and you’ll look great too!

4. Attend a course. As I advanced in my career, I started to hang out in Executive Education programs at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. I’ve never left a short or long program without my brain boiling over with ideas and inspiration and my energy level for my work as a leader and manager locked on high. Find your equivalent education refueling station, whether it’s an online course, something at the community college or a professional development program that interests you. Rinse and repeat.

5. Pursue a hobby. There’s some great feedback on the benefits of immersing yourself in something completely unrelated to your work. The shift in focus gives your brain a chance to recover and open up new connections in the process.

6. Spend more time with your team members. I learned over time that the one-on-one or group time was energizing. From development and coaching discussions to participating in idea generation and problem-solving, this very real work stimulates the gray matter and turbocharges the spirit. Of course, there can be complications from the boss diving in with the team, so be careful.

7. Connect disparate networks in your life. Develop as a network broker. Long before the studies on social networks began emerging, I had learned the potential benefits of connecting different people from different groups in pursuit of generating ideas or solving problems. I became a defacto network broker, and the benefits of connecting smart people from different spheres of business and life paid tremendous dividends in the form of innovation and creative problem-solving.

8. Ask your team how you’re doing. Better yet, ask them, “At the end of my time with you, what will you say that I did?” While this might best be handled in a way to insure anonymity, the feedback will either exhilarate you to do more of the same or encourage you to refocus your efforts.

9. Take an extended leadership break. Navigate your way into a role that emphasizes your individual contributions. If you love the freedom and solo focus of your daily work, great, make it permanent. If you’re like me, you’ll recognize how much you truly love leading, not for the glory (there is none), but for the psychic rewards of helping others achieve their goals.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

During the twenty-some years I served as a manager and executive, I took one 18-month leadership break and served as a staff member to the CEO of a big industrial firm. While the environment and work were great, I was miserable. That little break served as rocket fuel for what became the most productive and exhilarating part of my leadership life. Nonetheless, I had to take care of myself first before I could focus on the good work of guiding and developing others.

How’s your energy level for the work ahead? Is it time for you to refuel?

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Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.