Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Lincoln's Rule of Four

Photo by Mushkush

"Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend four sharpening the axe." - Abraham Lincoln

If you've never had the opportunity to use an axe, it really is much less effort when the blade is sharp. A dull axe results in hours of work and an aching back - if the tree ever does fall down.

Effective leaders and managers understand that they are the axe.

Maintaining your influence and credibility over time require you to take care of yourself - to keep yourself sharp. It is all too easy to neglect self-renewal and learning. Often, we do it to ourselves - in our desire to appear productive to others (or ourself!) we continue whacking away at the tree with a dull blade.

The symptoms of a dull leadership axe can include: you're no longer a half-step ahead of your team, you keep doing the same things, but aren't getting the same results, you're frustrated because your skills aren't sufficient for your vision, you experience extreme fatigue, unusual irritability, anger, depression, rapid weight gain/loss, sleep disruptions, etc.

There are many ways to "sharpen the axe"; here are a sampling:
  • Reframe everything on this list as healthy and necessary. In reality, failing to learn is letting our team down. Inadequate sleep is poor leadership.
  • Commit to self-learning. Read a book (start with some of my book reviews if you're not sure where to begin), read a magazine, or read a blog.
  • Apply what you learn. Once a month, incorporate a specific action from your learning into your life.
  • Rest. Our bodies and minds are not made to function continually. We need rest to be our best. For me it's 6.5 - 7 hours per night.
  • Exercise. Simple things work wonders - most of us can take a walk and stretch.
  • Reflect. If reflection is not a part of your personality, build 30 - 60 minutes a week into your schedule where you can think about what you are doing, what you are learning, and how it works together. Sometimes it helps if you occupy your hands (cooking, knitting, gardening, wood-working, etc.).
  • Journal. For many, the act of writing their observations, thoughts, and feelings helps make sense of events and provides insight.
  • Work with a mentor. Look for people who have successfully done what it is you are trying to do and regularly buy them lunch or a cup of coffee in exchange for their wisdom.
The goal here is not to simultaneously do everything on this list. What one thing can you begin today that will help restore your mind / soul / spirit? Just focus on that for a month, then come back for another.

How do you keep yourself healthy and effective for your team?

David M. Dye

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Twitter: @davidmdye
David shares twenty years experience teaching, coaching, leading, and managing in youth service, education advocacy, city governance, and faith-based nonprofits. He currently serves as Chief Operating Officer for Colorado UpLift and enjoys helping others discover and realize their own potential.

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