Disciplines of the Inner Life of a Leader

Disciplines of the Inner Life of a Leader

I focus much of what I do in leadership consulting on the inner life of a leader. I certainly believe in mastery of the technical side of leadership—money, law, HR, the science of a given industry, etc.—but I have come to believe that most of successful leadership is due to soft factors.

As a result, I’m keenly aware of a destabilization of leaders that is happening today due to the tumultuousness of our present world situation. More than a few leaders from a variety of industries have told me recently that they feel off balance heading into 2018. They can remember a time when they stepped into a new year certain of their course, strong in their soul, and confident of success by year’s end. This year, they feel shaky. They feel uncertain. They definitely don’t feel engaging and like someone who can inspire others.

Having run into this before, I asked these leaders about their last month or so. What was the pace? What was the intellectual diet? What was the emotional condition? How were their disciplines? What was their time with friends like? Their time with their spouse? What did they ponder as they placed their head upon their pillow at night?

You won’t be surprised to find that each of these leaders described a nearly out of control, fear-filled, constantly disrupted, “no time to think,” overwhelmed last month. They watched a lot of news. They understood little that they heard. They were afraid but had no time to digest it, no time to discuss their fears with others. Personal or family needs drove their schedule, so they lived in the tyranny of the calendar or the clock with little of their time corralled for intentional pursuits, for pre-sent goals. In other words, they felt shot out of an unstable canon toward an uncertain goal. They were exhausted, wrung out, and worried that 2018 might be a horrible year.

What is the solution? Leaders have to be very intentional and very guarded about the nurture of their inner lives. What inspires fear, what disrupts, what exhausts has to be tamed. Instead, the disciplines of the inner life have to be maintained. Reading, thought, imagining, prayer, list making, discussion with a small group of wisely chosen advisors, and the all-important physical exercises must be priorities.

Here’s the lesson: The world around us is constantly seeking to shape us and knock us off balance. We push back from the inside out. We resist being deformed by life around by having a deep inner life fed by personal disciplines. So, make the time! Read, pray, study, be quiet, envision, plan, and strategize—alone, quietly, apart from the maddening crowd. And turn the damn TV off. It’s part of your problem in the first place. In other words, rule over your emotional and intellectual diet and devote time to what makes you a success. Only you can do this, but great leadership will result.