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How to Feel Less Helpless and More Purpose in Leadership and Life

Many leaders right now are putting on a brave face.

On the outside, they are keeping their chin up. Sharing positive words. Striving to find the silver lining.

But for many leaders, what is happening on the inside tells a different story:

“I just feel so helpless.”

“It’s all so overwhelming.”

“There’s nothing I can do.”

Sound familiar? Even just a little bit?

It’s OK. Quite frankly, it would be ABNORMAL if there was not at least one time during this historic global crisis that you as a leader did not feel some small sense of overwhelm and helplessness in the face of it all.

But when we find ourselves in a mindset of helplessness, we don’t have to stay that way. We can choose a mindset that serves us and our people more effectively. We can shift from “helpless” leadership to something better – something with more purpose.

So, how can cultivate more “purpose” and less “helpless” in our leadership and life? How can we feel like what we are doing is making a difference for ourselves and for those around us?

The solution starts with a choice and sticks with a habit.

It Starts with a Choice
One of the bedrock principles of our leadership philosophy at Arrowhead is that while not everything we experience in leadership and in life is within our control, how we respond to those experiences is ALWAYS within our control. I wrote about this here and here.

In this historic moment as leaders, we have the same choice. If we are having thoughts and feelings of helplessness, then the first step toward leading with more purpose is to choose a new thought. One that serves us and our people more effectively.

I once heard Tony Robbins share a simple and excellent strategy for shifting from a powerless mindset to a powerful one.

It was simply this: Put a “HOW” in front of it.

When our mind tells us we are helpless, we should ask: “How can help?”

When our mind tells us we are overwhelmed, we should ask: “How can I take more control of myself?”

When our mind tells us we are stuck, we should ask: “How can I get moving?”

This is such a simple and empowering strategy we can use in the heat of any moment:

  • in a high-stakes meeting when it seems you’ve hit an impasse;
  • in the quarterly financial review when the numbers look really bad;
  • after a disappointing call with that key client or prospect.

In that moment, when you suddenly feel compelled to sit down at your desk and drop your head into your hands, in that moment, put a “HOW” in front of it.

It Sticks with a Habit
Once we have chosen to put a “How” in front of it and find a take a step in our leadership and life that has less helpless and more purpose, what can we do? How can we make that good step stick?

A good thing in life will stick when we make it a habit.

Let me offer a simple, practical, daily habit you can adopt to shift from helpless to purpose in leadership and in life.

You will want to get yourself a note pad, journal, or planner for this and break it out every morning for about 20 minutes before you start the rest of your day.

I call it the three R’s.

The first “R” is for “Roles”. It starts with asking ourselves the question: “What are my roles in life?”

Usually a list of about 5 or 7 top-of-mind roles will suffice for this exercise to work.

If you are using this tool in the context of your whole life, then your list of roles might look something like mine: I’m a dad, a husband, a business owner, a deacon at my local church, a neighbor, a son, and a friend.

You will have your own list. I recommend keeping it to no more than seven. Anything more than that gets hard to manage and tends to shift our focus away from the most important roles in our life.

Conversely, if you can’t come up with at least five you’re probably not thinking carefully enough about the various roles that you play in life – even if it’s just being a neighbor to the person in the apartment down the hall.

So, what are the five to seven roles that you play in your life right now?

Or at work, in leadership, what might your roles be? People manager. Client manager. Business partner. Mentor. Employee/teammate.
What are your key roles at work?

The next R is responsibilities.

So much contemporary self-help and leadership talk centres on self-will and operating according to our own impulsive desires. In the process, we have abandoned the notion of responsibility.

This is a point I underscore with clients ALL THE TIME. The secret to finding meaning in our life and in our leadership is to reclaim responsibility.

Responsibility is what gives us a sense of meaning. Impulses and feelings are fleeting while responsibilities last. What lasts, our legacy, our purpose, is born, not out of our cravings, but out of our responsibilities.

In your journal, underneath each role you have listed write down three responsibilities critical to your success in that role. Some of those responsibilities may feel “small” while some may be larger. But those responsibilities give shape and substance to our roles in life.

As husband in my household, one of my daily responsibilities it to ensure our kitchen remains clean at the end of every night. Another is that our pets are cared for. And another is that the laundry gets done.

It is up to me to make sure I’m fulfilling those responsibilities.

We can debate if those are big responsibilities or little responsibilities, but in my home, there is no question that those are my responsibilities. And if I do not fulfill those responsibilities, the household becomes disorderly, people become frustrated and the general climate around the place becomes a lot less happy. Trust me.
So, what are the responsibilities that you have associated with each role? What are those responsibilities that you have today associated with each role that you play in your life? Write those down.

The last R is for relationships.

What are the key relationships that you need to invest in or rely upon to complete your responsibilities and fulfill your role for this day?

For example, if you are an executive in an organization, some key relationships that you might need to rely on today in order to do your job might include a key supplier relationship you need to invest in to make sure you are getting the support you need to do your job effectively.

Or perhaps you need to invest in an employee who is really struggling with all of the drama that is going on around us in this current crisis, and you need to spend some time investing in that person.

When we invest in or rely upon our key relationships in our leadership or any station of our life, we find meaning.

Our interdependence uncovers our humanity. We cease to be alone. We cease to be selfish or isolated. In our connection with the key people in our lives we find meaning.

Roles. Responsibilities. Relationships.

If you want to feel less helpless and more purpose in leadership and in life, focus on the three Rs.

What are the key roles you play in your life and your leadership?

What are your key responsibilities in each of those roles?

And what are the relationships you are going to invest in or rely upon for you to fulfill those responsibilities and live out those rules as best as you can?

When we make the choice to live with purpose and begin to make habit of three Rs, we will feel less helpless, less overwhelm and less stuck. And you will begin to feel more effective, more focus and more purpose in leadership and in life.

This blog post was developed from a video I recorded in back in March.

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