What makes an exceptional leader?
The best leaders
- Are empathetic, resilient and kind.
- Have humility and integrity.
- Empower and influence and
- They take ownership for themselves and others.
So often you hear or read about what makes someone a great leader. It’s something we should all strive to be and this quick list of qualities can’t even begin to sum up what that means.
I had always considered myself as a good leader. But then I thought to myself; has anyone ever actually told me that I’m a good leader? Or am I just making it up in my head?
The reality is I was a decent leader, trying to convince myself that I was a great leader without really working towards it. Now listen, I am a believer that in order to do great things you have to believe you can – but is that enough? And sure, I was smart and I could make people want to follow me, but was I really in any kind of shape to do it?
While I wore the role of leader on the outside, I didn’t feel like a leader on the inside.
I was constantly losing focus on my work.
I was apathetic to the people I was responsible for.
I was agitated, irritable and stressed.
I wasn’t inspiring anyone.
One day, I just decided that I had enough. I was better than this.
About halfway through 2019, I made a commitment to make some radical transformations in my life. I knew that I could be the type of leader that my family, team and clients needed. I knew I could be a positive influence in a world that desperately needs them.
I did a lot of soul searching, and I happened to be reading Elevate by Robert Glazer (which I highly recommend) and my mind exploded. I really just saw how much more impactful I could be if I got rid of some of my worst habits.
But I also knew that it wasn’t something I could just think about, I needed to implement some real changes.
The first thing I had to do (which doesn’t count as one of the game changing moves) was stop letting my thoughts control me. I had been succumbing to the #fakenews that “This is the type of thing that doesn’t work for someone like me.” Effectively, that translates to “I don’t want to try to change.” It was time for that crap to stop.
I am a very process-oriented person so I couldn’t just wake up one day and start. It had to be a Monday and it had to be planned. Now this isn’t the case for everyone. And if you are using this as an excuse to never start, just do it today already.
My wife (and business partner) and I both value leadership and want to be the best we can so we talked about some changes we could make both individually and as a family. And that was that. See, when I set my mind on something, there is no stopping me. If I say I am going to do something, I do it. Some may call it stubbornness, I call it determination.
So I made a plan and then I woke up on a Monday morning and immediately started implementing 6 simple but impactful activities into my daily routine. If you are struggling to find yourself as a leader or KNOW that you could be doing more, I think you’ll find these habits impactful.
6 Game Changing Moves I Added to my Routine to Be a Better Leader, Father and Husband
Meditate in the Morning
There are a lot of studies about how meditation can actually help shape your thoughts, feelings and brain-processes. I encourage you to research those articles but for today’s purposes I’ll just tell you that in short, practicing meditation can help you focus more, stress less and reduce anxiety.
Never in a million years did I think I would be writing about meditating. NEVER.
But here we are. And now it’s the first thing I do every morning.
If you have never meditated and don’t know how (like me), then there are a lot of apps out there than can guide you. Finding one that works for you makes a profound difference (I use Calm).
Taking 10 minutes out of my day to feel refreshed, energized and release all the negative thoughts and feelings has been impactful for me.
And really, 10 minutes is such a small part of my day. And I am plenty busy so throw that excuse out the window.
For 10 minutes, I sit on my couch and just let everything fade away. Everything that I accumulate throughout the day and take to sleep with me just washes away as I get my mind right for the day.
I don’t reach for my phone to look through social media. I don’t look at my emails. I just get myself in the right kind of headspace to start my day.
And sure, it’s not always easy. Some days, my 1 year old is running around like a tasmanian devil and is quite distracting. But some days, he chooses to sit on my lap and quietly play or read. I could go into the other room but Crystal and I try to meditate together and the truth is, that even when he is distracting me, I believe that modeling these kind of activities is really beneficial for him and that is just more of a motivator for me to keep going.
Plus, it’s a great test to see how into it I can really get. If I can practice meditation in a house of chaos, you can too!
Keep a Journal
Again falling into the things I never thought I would write column, I started keeping a journal.
But this isn’t your typical journal. It asks specific questions every day. It takes 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes before bed.
It’s a journal that highlights what I am grateful for and is another very impactful way to start my day (and end it). After my head gets clear through meditation, the first things I think about are the things that I’m grateful for. I cannot begin to stress how huge this mindset shift is.
I then write down what my goals are for the day and something to give myself motivation through the day.
By practicing both meditation and journaling to start my day, I am mentally focused and ready to take control.
Now, I am positioned to be the best leader I can be for the day.
But it doesn’t end there…
I Stopped Eating Crap
I kept telling myself I was a young man and it didn’t really matter what I ate.
I’m not wrong, I am young but there is a tipping point there, and I was getting close.
My brain was foggy, my memory was not as sharp as it used to be and I had grown tired of feeling tired.
Hamburgers, wings, chimichangas and pizza. That was a typical week for me. I don’t really drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t partake in recreational drugs. But the food I ate was total crap.
The weight was starting to creep up, but more than anything, my energy level was just…blah. I would get done with my work day, and just be a fixture on the couch because I couldn’t muster the energy to do anything else.
That’s not a good way of life, and it’s not fair to the people around you to have a useless slug just occupying couch space.
I made the decision to cut out all red meat, all white sugar and all white flour. My diet consists of mostly vegetables and fruit, some whole grains, fish and limited poultry. It was a major adjustment and trust me, I hated it at first.
But after a month, when I dropped 20 pounds, I started to think that maybe this was something I should keep up with.
Then after three months, when I was down 40 pounds and I felt like I had the energy of a teenager again, I decided that this was the new lifestyle for me.
Oh, and the effects on my work?
I’ve never been more focused or productive. And my clients noticed. This naturally led to new clients (the all-powerful word of mouth at work here).
Best of all, I can roll around with my 20 month old and wear him out before he wears me out.
What a blessing this decision was.
That’s only half the equation, though.
I Got Off My Ass and Moved!
It feels pretty bad when you realize you are 35 and basically have no ability to run for more than one minute without feeling like your lungs were going to give out.
Chasing a one year old around the house will help you realize this pretty quickly.
I was never much of a runner – I had always just lifted weights. And I had been doing that for awhile, but it wasn’t enough.
I decided that I was going to run a 5k in 2020. I used to run the Peace Race in Youngstown when I was younger, so I decided I was going to train for that race.
So I downloaded the Couch to 5k app and started running.
And my lungs did feel like they were going to give. But I stuck with it – because quitting on things like this are not an option. Also, not in my nature.
I am not ready for the 5k yet, but I can chase down my son and play with him for long periods.
This increase of energy has been awesome for everything in my life, up to and including my work.
I feel the excitement and energy when I am working on projects with clients that I really care about.
I got intentional about taking time to shut down with the family
There was a time in life where I had my computer open from 8 AM until at least midnight.
Regardless if it was work or following my DraftKings teams (because you can’t win unless you watch your scores ALL NIGHT, right? Wrong.), I was glued to my screen.
My wife was basically an accessory (and I’m pretty sure she was sick of it).
Sure, we went out on the weekends, but outside of that I was an absentee husband much of the time. Unquestionably, having a child changed much of that, but I still had times where I fell back into those old ways.
I decided enough was enough. (Seeing a pattern here? You have to DECIDE to make changes and then actually make them.)
Now, once the workday is over, the computer stays mostly shut.
We don’t allow electronics at the dinner table. It’s family time.
It turns out, you can win on DraftKings without obsessively looking at your computer the entire duration of the games.
It’s done amazing things for our relationship. We have become much closer and better parents.
This change also inevitably helped our son too. Because of my bad habits, he was getting way too much secondary screen time and I know it doesn’t affect every kid the same, but my wife and I could tell that he was having trouble focusing, he wasn’t learning as fast as he used to and quite frankly, he was turning into a little monster.
I got some damn sleep!
One thing I feel like I hear way too much is fellow entrepreneurs and young dads bragging about how little sleep they get… how hard they “grind.”
Trust me, I get it. I put in some serious work.
But then it seems like a little later in the conversation, they reveal how much coffee or energy drinks they need to get through the day.
They talk about how they nod out during meetings or have to get the minutes to remember what happened during those meetings because they can’t pay attention.
Do any of those sound like positive habits? Does that sound like an individual that you want responsible for running your business?
The scariest thing for me is that I was the worst offender.
I had a crazy cycle going: wake up at 8 and go to sleep at 3. That left me with 5 hours of sleep.
I always said that allowed me to get so much done.
Sometimes this was true. Most times, though, it was bullshit.
Herein comes the quality vs. quantity argument. I was probably doing a lot, but I might not have been doing it all that well.
Now, every night, I get 8 hours of sleep. To ensure that I get through all my sleep cycles, and to help with anxiety, I also got a weighted blanket.
Timeout. Product promotion time.
I can’t illustrate how great these weighted blankets are. I basically got to the point where I would dream once every few months. Now, I have vivid, long dreams every night because this blanket lets me sleep through properly.
So what’s the outcome?
I was previously someone who would have told you that all of these things were “not me”, but was that me really even that good?? I don’t know if it was. But what I can say is that since I started implementing these 6 new healthy habits, I have improved in every facet of my life, including my leadership.
You might be thinking that these things sound great but they don’t make a great leader. But I will sit here until I’m blue in the face and argue that you are wrong (just ask my wife, I CAN argue all day).
Happy people make happy leaders. And you aren’t happy if you aren’t sleeping, or focusing on the good in your life, putting total shit into your body and sitting around on your ass all day. You just aren’t.
So now I challenge you to implement even just ONE of these activities everyday for a month. But I really think you’ll see the most benefit if you try them all.
You’ll be a better leader. A better father, husband, wife, colleague, friend… and person.
What’s better than that?