5 Ways to Stay Sharp As a Leader

My brother has his sword, and I have my mind. A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone.

Tyrion Lannister, Game of Thrones

We have all been there. The day in the office when you realize you have lost your edge. You aren’t as sharp as you used to be. Things seem to stay on multiple iterations of your to-do list. You dread conversations about your organization. The line of people outside your door needing your time has never been longer.You can’t seem to end the day at a reasonable hour without 100 unread emails. You realize that you have slipped from leading the organization to managing it. Here are some things that might help you keep your edge, to stay sharp.

Delegate – Do you really need to approve every security request for the department? Does every document require your approval before it leaves the office? One of the major contributors to CIOs being more tactical and less strategic is the day to day management of the operation. When you delegate responsibility you not only free up your own time, you demonstrate confidence in your managers. Most importantly, don’t be a control freak and don’t miss an opportunity to develop leaders under you.

Reconnect – I was raised to be a programmer. From my first BASIC class in 5th grade to my last full time programming gig as a middleware C programmer. When I feel like I need to get sharper, need to get back in touch with the people that report to me, I spend some time programming, working with Linux or playing with routers. Assuming you rose to a leadership position through the ranks and you enjoyed what you were doing, consider reconnecting with a past technical talent. Write a business plan. Figure out how something works. Make something.

Quadrant 2 – Steven Covey has pioneered a simple way of looking at how we spend our time by asking us to consider the two dimensions of urgency and importance, with regards to what we spend our time on. This is normally presented as a 2 by 2 matrix. Most of our time goes into work that is urgent and either important or not important. Quadrant two is defined as important and not urgent. This is where strategic planning goes on. Big thinking.Goal setting. Writing. Leaders who stay sharp spend more time in quadrant 2 than leaders who do not.

Physical & Spiritual & Relational – It is tough to stay sharp when your body doesn’t want to cooperate, you don’t feel fulfilled or you are having relationship problems. Take care of yourself. Watch your weight. Get exercise. Get good quality sleep. Stay fit spiritually, how ever you choose to do that. Take care of the relationships in your life, spend time on them. These non-work things will pay huge dividends.

Stay Out of Email – It is very easy to become a slave to your inbox, so change the way you deal with email. Each email should not become a priority as it shows up. It is incredibly distracting and draining to stop what you are doing and respond to every email that comes across your desk. Change your email alert so that no sound, pop or other indicator happens when emails come in. Read emails at certain times of the day only. Change your email signature to indicate that urgent matters should be brought to your attention outside of email. If you have a secretary or admin assistant, get them to read your email for you and screen out what isn’t important.

When you lead you have a responsibility to stay sharp and focused beyond the view beyond the horizon. You simply cannot do that without conscious effort and changing the way you work. When you stay sharp, you make all the people around you sharp!

Barry Condrey is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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