The Invisible Act That Makes You A Better Leader

Had a conversation with a student leader this last week. His team is functioning well and he’s experienced a good number of successes so far in his leadership year. With everything humming along nicely, he wondered what else he should be doing. Love questions like this. But even more, I love the student leaders who ask questions like this.

Your student leader year is going to have ups and downs, slow times and completely, crazy, overwhelming times. In fact, as we start to head into what we like to call Red October, you’ll begin to move from the Implementation Season into the Fluctuation Season (you can read more about the Six Seasons of the Student Leader Year here). As this happens, you and your team will find that you have the tendency to start living from event to event.

But no matter the Season or the level of busyness, there is always something that leaders do.

They think.

I know this doesn’t sound like a productive activity. Yet the time a leader spends thinking can lead to better productivity.

Thinking allows a leader to be proactive instead of reactive.
Thinking helps a leader to be aware and not blindsided.
Thinking enhances strategy and excellence instead of always flying by the seat of one’s pants.

My response in our conversation that day was to encourage this student leader to step back and take a broader view of things. I wasn’t inviting him to sit back in his chair and daydream. I wanted him to be intentional in his thinking. So I encouraged him to think as deeply as he could in three areas:

1. Think about what has happened.

The most effective leaders will take time to evaluate their experiences. I say this constantly: An event is not over until a) everything is put away and cleaned up, b) people who helped are thanked, and c) you’ve evaluated the event. If you truly are a student leader, then each event and project you oversee is an opportunity to learn something. If you never take the time to think about what happened, how will you get better? How will you improve on what you’ve already done?

If you need something to give you a head start in this area, I created an Evaluation Checklist that guides you through five different perspectives you can use to think through your last event or project.

2. Think about what is going to happen.

The leader is the keeper of the vision. A vision simply states where you want to end up when your student leadership year is over. It describes the unique and wonderful ways you are hoping to make this the best year ever. As the leader, you must keep this vision in front of your people. It’s not something that you offer once during a campaign speech or at the first meeting of the year. You must repeat it and renew it constantly with those whom you lead.

The leader is also aware of the calendar. As your team starts to slide into the pattern of living from event to event, you must be able to take a step back and see the bigger picture. You need to know what’s coming two weeks, a month, even two months from now. Once again, if everyone waits until the last minute to do the next thing, you sacrifice your options and your capacity to do your best work.

3. Think about what is happening now.

Leaders ask themselves on a daily basis: How’s everyone doing? A leader will think about the people in his or her care. Do you know what’s going on in the lives of those you lead? Are you aware of any potential conflicts or trouble spots that may be starting to rumble right below the surface. A leader thinks about what is going on right now so that he or she can take care of issues that arise right now. Part of what it means to equip your team is removing the barriers that get in the way of their effectiveness. Is there something that’s happening right now that is keeping your team from being at it’s best?

The ability to think about what is happening right now is a discipline. It’s something that a leader does on a daily basis. You may not think about the past or the future everyday, but the best time to think about the present…is in the present. This is why I encourage you, as a leader, to carve out some time everyday to think. Even if it’s only for 10 minutes. This practice (habit!) will help you to be better prepared to lead and guide your team.

Victor Hugo stated, “A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought.  There is a visible labor and there is an invisible labor.” Today I encourage you to engage in this invisible labor.  It will help you, as it has helped me, in the labor that is visible to those around you.

TELL ME THIS: What else do you need to think about as a leader?

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