You go back into the office tomorrow. The majority of your focus is spent determined to get to the next goal or KPI (key performance indicator) of the month. You’re constantly fighting fires, attending nonstop meetings (often meetings to talk about meetings), pulled in different directions between boss, peers, and team—expectations from all angles, just trying to juggle it all and stay afloat.
Every day feels like a dogfight. Time is stretched, and it’s only getting worse. Competing priorities couple with internal tensions (if you even have the time to be aware of the tension), and you often question what it all even means.
Then you think of your team—and it snaps you right back into focus. You love your team (on their best days, for sure). If you’re being honest, you likely don’t spend enough time with them, coaching them and investing in their personal and professional motivations. Coaching sounds amazing, but who has the time?
If I surveyed your team, would they want more of you (as a coach) or less of you? As of today, they’re hesitant to knock on your door. You say it’s an open-door policy, but it’s always closed as you’re putting out fires and in yet another “mission critical” meeting. Your team sees how busy and overwhelmed you are—always sprinting, never sitting in place for long, certainly not taking a breath. Without even knowing it, a vicious cycle builds momentum.
Less connection with your team has lowered morale, engagement, purpose, productivity, and performance. You got into leadership because you wanted to be the coach that would inspire others to be their best, to achieve their full potentials, and to impact people much the way the most significant leaders in your life have you. While you’ve gained the title, money, and responsibilities, there’s a gap between who you’ve become and who you want to be.
So, who are you? Really—at your core, who are you on your best day? Just when you sit down to process it all, your boss comes around the corner — another fire, cape on, time to save the day. This is a typical Monday. What I didn’t mention is the impact this is having on your home life. The sixty-to-seventy-hour weeks are taking a toll on family and inner circles. Back in the office await intense, short-term pressures, politics, CYA emails, negative water cooler chatter and red tape—all packaged as a never-ending rat race—adding to the stress and anxiety of the day-to-day.
The treadmill you’re climbing is only getting faster and steeper, with less support as the weeks and months go by.
You just want to be there for your team so you can be the coach you always envisioned. You want everybody in your locker room to grow personally and professionally. You want to invest in their careers so they can be the best versions of themselves, find purpose in everything they do, and feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves—knowing they make an impact each and every day, to be fulfilled when it’s all said and done. You haven’t said this out loud, but that’s exactly what you want, too.
Leadership is a tremendous responsibility. It gets messy, and it’s extremely hard work. The good news: there is a playbook for what great leaders do—to win and to last: The Power of Playing Offense.
BEFORE YOU LEAD OTHERS, YOU MUST FIRST LEAD YOURSELF
As a leadership consultant, I frequently get brought into organizations to do a “people problem” audit. It’s often a senior leader who calls on me to evaluate their team, fellow leaders, and individual contributors. They sense that something could be better but can’t quite put their finger on it. If I had a nickel for every time I heard the words, “They just don’t get it”—let’s just say I’d be very well compensated.
While every organization and team has its own unique dynamics, there are a few constants. Culture is the dominant gap—and leaders are the tone setters of culture. As much as the most senior leader believes that the problems all lie on their team or in the environment, the answer is often in the mirror. That doesn’t make me the most popular consultant, but it makes me an honest one.
Leaders often neglect to lead themselves—which becomes a loss of focus and awareness on how their daily actions and behaviors are impacting their team and their organization. Their locker room is fractured by gaps in trust, camaraderie, and connection. So, how do you solve this puzzle?
Elements of the solution will typically require a mix of vulnerability, humility, candor, trust, and acknowledgment that we as leaders may be the issue, or at least play a major role. The bright spot is, this opens the door for personal growth and transformation.
Before you lead others, you must first lead yourself. I'll start by pulling out a mirror of my own.