Those that have followed me or engaged in one of my leadership programs know that the leadership development process I created was originally based on the way elite athletes have trained for decades. In short, they assess their abilities, create a vision which they execute on, reflect on how they performed and receive regular coaching feedback.
I have had the pleasure of interviewing and researching several elite athletes over the years. This includes championship athletes from several sports and Olympic medalists. The one thing they have in common is their drive to compete at an elite level.
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I’ve been closely watching the story about Simone Biles at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics because I admire her drive and tenacity, but also because she is one of the examples I have used in my courses of how leaders need to continue to growth to be effective leaders. She is now an example of how leaders need to know when to take a break.
While at the Olympics, Simone experienced what is known as a case of the ‘twisties,’ which “gymnasts describe as losing control of their body mid-trick and losing sense of where they are in the air. The sensation is not only disorienting, it’s dangerous and can lead to serious injury.” These Olympic Games probably contributed additional stress on her due to the high expectations for her performance, the COVID pandemic and the lack of family members at the competition.
We’ve all pushed ourselves to our limits and beyond to get the task done but it is just as important to know when it’s time to step away. In leadership, this is performed during a regular reflection routine. Unfortunately, my research and interviews indicate that this is an area many leaders don’t incorporate into their daily practice of leadership as much as they should. Many just reflect monthly, quarterly or annually, when it should be performed weekly (at a minimum) or daily (recommended).
Let’s use this opportunity to refocus on our personal reflection strategies. This can include:
- Reflecting on your day either before the day starts or after the day has ended.
- Taking regular breaks throughout the day to go for a walk, listen to music or even play a game.
- Ending your day with a regular wind-down routine where you spend time talking to friends and family or watching a show you like.
- Getting away for the weekend or for a vacation where you disconnect from your devices.
The most important thing you can do to take care of yourself is to get an adequate amount of sleep. Experts recommend 7 to 8 hours each night. Without it, our minds are robbed of the time to completely recharge which negatively impacts our ability to function at an optimal level.
There was a second, lesser discussed, lesson Simone Biles provided for leaders. By withdrawing from some of the events she was considered a strong contender, she enabled her teammates to compete in her place. This resulted in the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team winning 6 medals, including the bronze medal won by Simone on the balance beam. Leaders need to also know when to step aside and let others have the spotlight. If they’ve done their job, the team will still succeed.
Most of us don’t engage in an activity where a mental mistake could lead to a devastating injury or impact, but we can damage our minds and the lives of others in our charge when we don’t take care of our mental health.
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