Once not so long ago, when I was working hard in a yoga class, I heard the teacher suggest, “If you are a Type A, if you’re always striving and pushing, try working a little less hard. And if you know that you tend to slack off, push yourself today.”
We are (mostly) who we are. We do things a certain way. We have certain habits, and these tend to be hard to change (and, most of these habits have gotten us where we are today.)
But what’s important to remember is that while a few people may have been born great leaders, most great leaders are made through a constant practice of self-reflection and evolution.
What better example than President Obama? Recently, Michelle Cottle wrote a piece in The New Republic titled “The Cool Presidency: An Inquiry into Obama’s hipness,” which concludes:
…the dirty little secret of our new president’s cool is that no element of it came with ease. Obama achieved his laid-back, too-cool-to-care persona by being a committed grind: He spent years working through his insecurities, learning to control his emotions, and sanding down the rough edges of his personality…
So what if you start smoothing some of your own rough edges: pick something you’re interested in doing differently, and spent just one week acting differently?
Do you always have something smart and constructive to say in meetings? Spend a week saying absolutely nothing, just listening, and see who else starts to speak up (and how you feel staying quiet).
Do you “need” to go online every 15 minutes to check your email, your Twitter feed and the latest news headline? Spend a week with your Internet connection turned off except for two hours a day, and see what happens.
Always getting everything right before launching the next new idea? Take something half-baked and move it forward quickly. Are you the last person on your team to arrive in the office every morning? Arrive first for a week. Eat lunch alone? Invite a friend. Always eat with the same people? Invite someone new. Blog posts always long? Shoot for less than 200 words this week. Always short? Develop an idea.
A lot of these habits are the stories we tell ourselves. We justify our unexamined habits by saying “this is who I am. It worked to get me here.”
Big changes are hard. A one week experiment in acting differently is risk-free. So spend a week smoothing off some edges, and see how it feels.