We recently heard this from a client—a successful C-suite executive at a global financial services firm: “Everything I have done in the past to have enough energy to be on top of my game and to think clearly is no longer working. I am more stressed than ever. I am constantly feeling overwhelmed. I am not the leader I want or need to be.”
Bates’ research into executive presence tells us that showing up with vigor and looking ready for the game matters to how others perceive our leadership. We also know that feeling vigorous and ready for the game is key to being a good leader—making good decisions, motivating others, being productive, demonstrating discipline and restraint.
Unfortunately, today’s business environment makes feeling and showing up energized a challenge. There’s constant pressure to always be connected, to do more with less, and to increase innovation and productivity at lower cost and with fewer resources. It’s driving seasoned executives to become disengaged, even angry and cynical. Not to mention at risk for serious health crises.
And yet, we also work with leaders who somehow manage to make it all look easy. They’re juggling multi-billion-dollar organizations, traveling the globe, attending meetings all day and business functions at night. Even so, they’re also still curious about new ideas, always interested in what they can learn and how they can be better. They come across as in control of their day. Their energy and focus imbues others with confidence and purpose.
How do they do it? When we thought about our clients, we saw there were some common strategies that our most energized, least overwhelmed clients employ. Here are five:
They’re laser-focused on their strategic priorities. If you ask these clients what their top strategic priorities are, they can tell you quickly, succinctly and in concrete terms—and there are never more than you can count on one hand. They invest time in identifying what really matters to driving business outcomes, then they keep those strategic priorities top of mind and align everything else against them.
There’s clear purpose to how they spend their time. These leaders look at time as their most precious resource and therefore spend it with careful attention to ROI. Their meeting agendas are well thought through rather than last-minute, rote exercises. They think through the desired outcome for the events on their calendar, and the best approach to get there. They make sure they’re prepared so they can listen fully and ask productive questions.
They multi-task differently. Multi-tasking—like being in a meeting and on your laptop or phone—gets a bad name, and rightly so. Our most successful leaders understand that this approach makes them look, and feel, distracted and overwhelmed. Rather, they multi-task by listening to books or podcasts while driving or reading while flying. They learn and build relationships over meals. They use their least productive time to do their least important, least mind-consuming tasks—like tackling email or polishing a deck.
They fully use the resources they have at their disposal. It’s amazing to us how many executives have the luxury of an assistant and then tap only a fraction of their capacity. Our clients who seem in control of their time put their assistants in charge by making them full partners: their assistants know their priorities and how they want to use their time. We have clients who put their assistants in charge of their “to do” lists so that nothing slips through the cracks. They delegate decision rights to their teams and they bring in other voices to get the best ideas on the table.
They make their stamina a priority. Knowing that their stamina is finite yet the demands infinite, our energized clients put taking care of themselves on the priority list. The right diet and exercise are significant contributors to executive stamina, but surprisingly, not all of our top-performing clients are always great at doing either. Instead, they know what drains their energy and find ways to recharge. They turn off their phones and block uninterrupted time for family and friends. They garden, fish, read, golf or take a walk. More than a few meditate—one client calls meditation his “secret weapon.”
The fact is, there’s no single one-size-fits-all silver bullet to perfectly manage your stamina in an always-on, hyper-speed business world. But as we have found over and over again there are always a few things you can do to manage it better. Today, strategies to address and build executive stamina are not just another “wellness” fad—they’re a business imperative.