One of these days I’ll follow instructions better. Maybe.

The facilitators from the Center for Creative Leadership instructed our team to choose one of many photographs to serve as a metaphor of our current state of leadership. Naturally, I chose the wrong one because I didn’t follow instructions: I chose one that represented me five months ago. I chose a rugby scrum.

Rugby Scrum

However, I should have chosen the image of the solitary kayaker.kayaker

Five months ago, I was leading a nonprofit organization I had founded that had a staff of eleven. At 4:45 PM on July 3, all eleven of us received the same email from the small, 3-member board, terminating all our employment. Suddenly, I was a leader without anyone to lead – the solitary kayaker.

I’ve often wondered what leaders do when there is no one to lead. They disappear for a bit, then often reappear later refreshed and refocused. But what do they do in the meantime?

Here are a few things I’m learning:

• I have to lead myself first

      • I was suddenly thrust into a crisis and the first person I have to lead through it is my self
      • I ask myself, frequently, if I would be willing to follow me in a crisis
      • I ask myself, “If I wasn’t me, what advice would I give me.”

Examine what is important

      • There is nothing like a crisis to clear out the clutter of non-essentials.
      • With pen and paper in hand I wrote down life’s essentials again

• Take better care of me

      •  Leadership can be so other-focused that a person forgets to take care of his or her self.
      • Physical Health – I eat better and get more exercise
      • Spiritual health- I have found spiritual music, podcasts, and books very helpful
      • Mental health- Studying and reading is powerful
      • Invest in trusted relationships- crisis quickly clears the room of folks tagging along for self-interest

• Answer the hard questions truthfully

      • To identify and admit areas in which I failed also helped me identify areas of success.
      • Managing criticism
      •  Armchair quarterbacks, who have never quarterbacked, are quick to find fault.
      •  Learning to say, “Yep, I was wrong on this point,” also helped me to say, “Yeah, but I was right on that point.”
  • When farmers have down time, they
      •  Sharpen their tools
      • Grease the equipment
      • Fix what’s broken
      • Buy new equipment.

• Adjust my life plan

      • I had a life plan that was tied too much to my organization. I have the chance to ask myself what I really want to do the rest of my life.
      •  Have more fun
  • Deliberately positioning myself to enjoy life more.

• Live music
• Going dancing with my wife
• Playing with grandkids
• Fly-fishing (It had been over a year since I fly-fished- one of my favorite activities)
• Deliberately create
o Writing – I have written more in the last five months than the last three years
o Building heirlooms in my woodworking shop
o Photographic safaris

Have you ever found yourself as a leader with no one to lead? What lessons have you learned? Would you agree with me? I would love to hear your thoughts.