It’s 3 am, and the clock is ever so slowly moving to Jim’s wake-up time of 5:15.  It seems that he has checked the time every five minutes for the past, well, three hours or so.  Jim has gone through a mental inventory of everything currently in his life that could be possibly be keeping him up and he has not come up with anything meaningful.  

Then Jim worked backwards, thinking about the past few months, nothing. 

Finally, he decided to think about the future. He asked himself, “Are there things lingering for me about the future?”  While Jim didn’t have clarity about anything material, he did notice that his level of anxiety was going up as he considered the future.  “Interesting,” Jim thought. “What’s that all about?”

Jim’s story is one that is too familiar to many (me included).  It’s the story of a leader that’s having a great year on many fronts, and all is good. Yet, there’s a level of low-grade anxiety that looms in the distance, and too often rears its head at the most inopportune times.

While life is good, my joy and rest is often zapped by my desire for things to stay the same.

The ageless challenge in leadership has always been, and will continue to be, how to effectively deal with the inevitable change coming our way. And the rate of change we face today can contribute to a constant state of anxiety. Change, whether known or unknown, will forever challenge any leader’s judgment and decision making, even in the good times. Success is not a once-and-done thing, is it?

Time after time, history has demonstrated that the key to overcoming challenges is to anticipate them. We need to get ahead of change in order to understand its challenges and minimize their complexity and impact. That seems obvious, right?  However, while obvious, most of us tend to delay that process until it’s too late. That’s why I wrote down a few things to consider as we all anticipate change and challenges in the future.

  1. Ask a purposeful question. You can never underestimate the power of having a shared purpose with your teams, from the job level on up. Engaging that process will allow us to have common language, shared vision and open dialogue. That will create an excellent climate for energy and innovation.  My question for 2017 has been, “What are we trying to do here and why?” What will your 2017 question around purpose for you and your team be?
  2. Define success and accept that it’s not always the same for everyone. What does success look like for you? And how often are you communicating that to yourself and others on your team? Every day I realize that the definition of success and excellence is really different from one person to the next. As leaders, we ought to bring clarity and consensus to that discussion because it will align our thoughts and actions and clear the way to anticipate the future.
  3. Be intentional about building trust. The greatest teams are the ones that have a foundation of trust. Plan trust-building events that work for you and your teams, and ask your team members to do the same with their teams. Some ideas could include bringing a quick activity to your weekly staff meeting (check out this list for inspiration), a team lunch, or a family picnic.
  4. How do you come across? One of those things we should all be more intentional about is how others perceive us. In other words, let’s exercise self-management! Your perspective and how you live it out (weather you know it or not) can make all the difference to you and your team. Spend time identifying your own perspective and laying out how you will act that out, because it’s critical. How you show up is contagious.

This is by no means an inclusive list, but I hope I have given you enough to consider these pointers on a more regular basis. Having these tools at the ready may just help you to go right back to sleep the next time anxiety about the future rears its ugly head at 3 am.

I would even encourage you to review this blog post with your team during your staff meeting and create a dialogue around each and every item on the list as well as others that you may find helpful. Of course, any comments or feedback are always helpful, so please share your thoughts. Let’s get the dialogue going.

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