Question: How do I stay on top of my game?
You can never take your leadership for granted. You have directed all your efforts, made the sacrifices, accomplished all the requirements and nurtured the connections on your way to becoming a great leader. Now you must sustain your focus in order to remain at your leadership apex.
As you grow older, you accumulate more and more obligations. Many people come into and out of your life, and it takes a great deal of self-discipline to be able to manage your leadership capacity. For instance, if you create a graph of a typical leader, at what age are they at the top of their game? Forty? Fifty? Sixty? That might be five or ten years ago, or ten years ahead, of where you are now. You have accrued knowledge, skill and ability. You came to your leadership role with enthusiasm and industriousness, and your position reflects the confidence that other people have of you. You have been using single-minded focus to get to your apex. The question now is how do you stay at this apex?
If you don’t have self-discipline, along with a plan that you are paying strict attention to, regression will set in naturally. As stated, as a leader you collect more people, more things and more distractions into your vista. Additionally, you might be five years into performing at the apex of your position, which means you have added even more governance and leadership issues, as well. Consequently, if you haven’t also been discarding items and obligations along the way, you are going to get top-heavy and distracted from your single-minded focus. Your obligations and distractions expand and, if managed properly, contract like an accordion, ensuring your focus can be clear and uncluttered.
This is one of the major themes of the 1992 movie ‘City Slickers’, starring Billy Crystal. He’s part of a group of mid-life professionals from New York City who decide they need to find a new outlook on life, so they go to a dude ranch. They are out of their element, certainly, which is very funny. But at one point, an old surly ranch-hand named Curly is riding alongside Billy across the prairie on horseback, when Billy’s character asks: ‘What is your secret to life?’ The old cowboy takes a drag from his cigarette, turns in his saddle, holds up one finger and says: ‘One thing.’ To which Billy replies: ‘Well, what is that one thing?’ The weathered ranch-hand says: ‘That’s for you to figure out and when you do, you’ll be a much happier man than you are right now.’
In mid-life, you have been around long enough to have amassed intellectual, professional and personal baggage, and you have plenty of reasons to lose your focus. Understanding how important it is to do ONE thing really well consistently, instead of attempting to do a myriad of things in a mediocre fashion.
That is one of the major keys to staying on top of your leadership game.
In my time as a leader working with direct reports, it was much more important to me to assist each of them towards the identification of their one single focus rather than to monitor their activities. For instance, they might have been focused on becoming President. Whatever their focus, they would put that stake firmly in the ground and ensure everything they did moved them forward with that single-minded focus foremost in mind.
It is vital that you keep this focus, even when you’ve reached the apex of your leadership role. You must continue to hone your focus and gather the tools you need to keep you there, at this apex. Be disciplined, because others are counting on you to continue being abundantly clear on your single focus. We need your best and we need it right here, right now.
It can be seductive to feel important by rushing to randomly tend to a long list of activities. Instead, give your full 100 percent focus to getting it done exceptionally well, and the benefits will be exponential. People want to work with you when you’re known for doing exceptional work. That’s what being an apex leader is all about. You must be focused.
You can always put the stake further and further ahead as you proceed, and you might find yourself running farther past it than you ever thought possible. Find your single focus and it will pay dividends upon dividends, because it makes you dependable, sustainable and reliable in everything you do.
You are able to be a great leader and your single focus makes you dependable, sustainable and reliable in everything you do. Your steadfast discipline in your single-focus will enhance your success through all the phases of your role as leader. But keeping on top of your game, particularly if you have been at the apex of your position for a number of years, also requires that you do not get stagnant.
As human beings, we can get stuck in the same old ways of thinking, the same old ways of doing things. Look to reinvent yourself with new pursuits, because it’s powerful to continue learning and to keep challenging yourself. Don’t compromise your single-focus, but look to add some new activities to the undertakings that are always in your vista.
You might choose to take up yoga to expand your mindfulness, or golf to hone your single-minded skills. To stay focused at the top of your game, you need to have energy, and you need to ensure that you draw from a variety of sources. Try something that takes you out of your comfort zone – when leaders get too comfortable they lose their edge. But be strong
enough mentally to compartmentalize all these items and find a way to park them in your vista, so you can attend to what’s important in the moment.
As you’ve done all along the way to attaining the apex of your position as leader, you can get back to those other items. Don’t let them pull you in and distract you, because your leadership may become fragmented, crumbling and ineffective. It’s not always convenient – for you or for those around you – when you need to manage the distractions so you can retain your single-minded focus. But without that focus, you will suffer as a leader, and you will let down everyone who is counting on you.
You can’t take your leadership for granted. Your focus can erode over time – it can disappear. Keep your vitality when you’re at the top of your game, and keep your focus. This is how leaders stay at the top of their game, and remain Apex Leaders all the while.