There is a guided meditation I’ve used with groups and individuals that literally helps them to imagine roots growing out of their feet into the ground. One of the purposes of this exercise is to help people feel “grounded”, i.e. stable, back to their “roots” and better able to withstand the corrupting forces of losing touch with reality.
It’s true that power can corrupt. In the shift to having the ability to exercise more control as you rise to the top, you must find ways to avoid the self-deception that comes with the lure of the immoral and unethical.
Slowly, unethical, immoral or just plain unpleasant behaviors (like being out of touch, in denial, a know-it-all) can creep in. You may not recognize it, but when these things happen, you’ve lost your roots. You’ve forgotten that it is a privilege and honor to be in a position of leadership.
What’s the secret?
Some leaders – the good ones – know this can happen. Perhaps you are one who is concerned about it happening to you. While the meditation exercise isn’t bad, you need some help now, and on ongoing basis. How can you stay grounded?
Know what you value and act on it: Many of the leaders I work with have memorized their top personal values. This helps them in tough decisions and sticky situations that aren’t as black and white as they’d like. Your values are an “anchor” for behavior that is ethical and moral; they can keep you on the right track. When you have a tough decision to make, ask yourself “What decision can I make that will keep me true to my value of XXXXXX?”.
Remember that work isn’t your whole life: Leave your cell phone at work and enjoy being present to some of the activities that remind you of your fallibility and humanity. Spend time with your family and in spiritual pursuits. Reconnect with things you love to do outside of work (sports, hobbies, nature). Volunteer for something that is very different from your everyday life (connect with children, or work at a soup kitchen). Try something new that really stretches your physical, intellectual, or emotional ability.
Surround yourself with stakeholders who will disagree with you (and then listen to them): Don’t isolate yourself and make decisions in a vacuum. Invite others into your thought processes and welcome their opposing views. Hire people who think differently than you do, and listen closely to their ideas. Make sure you balance your need to be the person that knows everything (because you can’t possibly) by understanding what others know.
Connect regularly with trusted and trustworthy friends and advisors: It’s important to have people you trust to connect with regularly – inside and outside of work. Just hanging around with good people can make a difference, but they can also provide the space you need to have confidential conversations to help you to stay grounded. Consider a mentor, a coach, friends and colleagues whom you trust.
Staying grounded is, in a way, staying human. Human leaders find ways to keep their roots.
What helps you to stay grounded?