As leaders continuing to move and grow through our careers, we often navigate in spaces we’ve never been before. I’ve always called this “Living in the Stretch”. It’s that part of our life, or job, or opportunity that is new to us; a place where we are uncomfortable and unsure of the outcome – yet still called to lead ourselves (and others) through.
Sometimes we are operating around 20% in the stretch – that’s probably normal for effective leadership growth. But every now and then, circumstances lead us to where we are living 70-80% in the stretch, and it’s stressful! These are the moments that get our adrenaline pumping, our minds focused, and our jaws set. My experience has been that these ultimately become those amazing, defining moments that mark our path with bright light when we look back on our lives.
There’s no denying it’s a little bit scary: In these moments, we often can’t see the next stone in the path where our foot is about to fall. And sure, stumbling is a possibility, but guess what? We’ll get back up and take the next step! Great leaders separate themselves, in part, by driving through that fear and stepping anyway. And the really exceptional leaders use every resource they have within their reach to start laying those stones further and further out ahead and lighting the path for those who are following.
Sometimes your step falls on a stone that got put there at just the right time by circumstances (or God, or the universe – you choose); you never could have predicted its form. And every now and then your flashlight will pierce enough darkness that you can actually see two or three steps ahead. And more often than not, there are multiple paths to choose from, and you are the one making the ultimate choices. It’s complex. It’s adventurous. And, it’s leadership.
In fact, my belief is that this zone is what makes leadership so incredibly exciting sometimes. Sure, other people may have tread this path before, but for you this is new, and fascinating, and yes, things go “bump” in the night. But what an incredible high it is to look back every now and then and say – “Wow, I just cleared some serious forest back there!”
This moment could have arrived through a promotion, a career transition, a geographical relocation, or any new adventure you can think of.
So, how do we survive and lead during these moments; how do we keep it from becoming paralyzing?
I’ve had the opportunity to watch some outstanding leaders in these situations, and I’ve had the opportunity to live occasionally at the 80% “in the stretch” zone myself. I think we all have.
So here’s what I’ve picked up so far about how to thrive in this particular state:
- Rely on your history. Tell yourself your own stories over and over again. If you look back, probably not very far, you’ll find a recent experience when you tread into the unknown and came through remarkably better off.
- Leverage your network! This is when all of those conversations and relationships (see former blog posts!) become so vital to you. If you’ve given generously into your network, and built genuine friendships, these friends will help you. (Just as you’ll help them when the tables are turned).
- Trust yourself and your instincts! Remember, you are a leader. Exercising leadership skills is how you got here in the first place.
- Set your vision, and spend time really imagining its achievement. Here someone recently said to me “Write that acceptance speech you’re going to give x-number of years from now. And picture yourself giving that speech. Who is in the audience? What you’re feeling?”
- Hold on tightly to the till!
- Have faith and let go of what you can’t control. No matter what your spirituality, at some point, you just have to have faith or trust. While you are focusing on the things you CAN control, also relax and breathe into your faith.
Author, Virtual CFO, and Finance Coach
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