Why great leaders do need some baggage

Last week, my 15-year-old son went on a week-long hike into the New Zealand bush. The list for what he had to pack in his backpack left us both scratching our heads – it was as precise as it was long.

When he returned yesterday, tired but happy from his sojourn into the native forest, he excitedly recounted how his pack (and its contents) had “saved the day” and kept him warm and safe.

It got me to thinking about packing backpacks in a metaphorical sense.

If leadership is an ongoing journey into a symbolic jungle – what do you need to “pack” into your mental, emotional and physical “backpack” to successfully meet those leadership challenges?

Your list will undoubtedly change, just as the terrain, you, your team and your organisation changes.

If you’ll humour me, here’s a little experiment I want you to try.

Think about what lies ahead for you from a leadership perspective in the coming week.

What potential challenges, important events or critical deadlines can you foresee during the next 7 days?

What do you need to “pack” into your metaphorical backpack to help you meet those challenges most effectively?

Your week ahead could include a crucial meeting, a difficult but necessary conversation you’ve been putting off but know you’ve got to tackle, a board meeting with a potentially curly agenda item, a significant deadline. It may even just be a full-on, jam-packed week where your social schedule is as overwhelming as your work one (after all it is that time of year!)

If you were treating this next week like my son’s trek, what would you “pack” into your own backpack in order to be successful?

How do you need to ‘show up’ in order to feel proud of the way you handled the week?

What would success look like?

“Pack” that image.

What resources do you have at your disposal that you might be forgetting? Who are the people you can reach out to? What are the skills and strengths you have that you will need to consciously tap into? “Pack” them into your rucksack too.

And while we’re at it, what do you need to ditch and leave out of your bag? What are those less helpful traits that creep into your behaviour when you’re under pressure that you need to ditch in order to tackle the week ahead? What are you going to do to lower the risk of those tendencies derailing your efforts? How do you get in your own way and how can you leave that behaviour behind this week?

It might be that you need to reschedule some unimportant meetings to make sufficient time to plan for that crucial deadline. It could be that you schedule in exercise (because you know it clears your head and gives you energy). It could be flicking through the 51% rule or other gems on The Leader’s Digest app to remind yourself of how to prepare yourself for that co-worker who triggers you!

It might be merely returning to the values you hold dear to be your compass as you trek your way through this next week.

For me, I have a couple of crucial publishing deadlines, so I have already “packed” my best time management hacks, which include scheduling sufficient creative writing time first thing in the morning. I’m ditching my perfectionist and my inner critic, as these personae don’t help my writing AT ALL!

I have to have a couple of ‘crucial conversations’ so I’m packing a healthy dose of courage and will have another quick read through this awesome book on the subject.  Finally it’s a very, very busy week, with lots of travel and work out of town, so I’m packing in my mediation app), and I will exercise every day – it’s the best stress buster I can find.

Backpacks that are thoughtfully and intentionally well packed, metaphorically or otherwise, can be the difference between feeling satisfied at the end of the week, like my son, or feeling bruised, scratched and full of regret.

Please go to my Facebook page or comment below and share what’s in your backpack. I’d love to read your insights about what you realised when you went through your own mental packing and unpacking exercise. Looking forward to hearing from you.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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