Just like the finest athletes on the planet, the leader of tomorrow requires a holistic regimen to perform at superior levels — a steady and inspired diet of theory, application and feedback that allows them to increase their capacity for generating the future, faster. The unreal expectations placed on leaders to achieve the “other-worldly”, demands that they be able to continually access that next gear.
While we possess reams of research on the fitness programs of elite athletes, what does it look like to put extraordinary leaders through the paces? Three components of conditioning are essential for realizing the next-level of leadership:
- Eclipsing previous thresholds. A threshold represents the “edge” of one’s fitness; M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, refers to this perimeter as an individual’s comfort zone. Intensity is the key ingredient for expanding the outer limits — emotionally, physically and mentally — that one can attain. To break through this barrier, leaders are tasked with a battery of rapid-fire exercises that push them past where they’ve been before. Such focused ferocity breeds confidence and expands consciousness. As K. Anders Ericsson, a Professor of Psychology at Florida State suggests, “It feels like you’re constantly stretching yourself into an uncomfortable area beyond what you can’t quite do.”
- Forming new maps (patterns of thought, action + impact). Stretching one’s outer limits yields greater space for adaptive thinking. Instead of remaining locked into a set of behaviors that no longer serve them, “expansive” leaders are freed up to diagram alternative paths forward. Altering how one sees and thinks about the future happens through a series of progressive experiences in the field. Asking individuals to navigate their way out of unfamiliar and extreme surroundings — like hikes in the Teton Mountains or acquiring a company twice your size — forces leaders to tap into a deeper, more intuitive and strategic voice. Making sense of the foreign terrain teaches leaders how to re-map patterns of thought (behaviors) on the fly; thus, readying them to successfully negotiate all the uncertainty that undoubtedly lies ahead.
- Sustaining a much larger intention (expansive vision). The complex challenges, to be faced by generations to come, will span organizational, socioeconomic and geo-political boundaries. Orchestrating systemic change — the kind that advances companies, communities and economies — means that leaders will have to greatly extend their horizon lines. Learning to focus the totality of one’s efforts, over the long haul, requires an unmatched blend of imagination, discipline and stamina. The only way to hold open a space so large is by making an even deeper investment in one’s leadership practice.
This is what it takes to realize a peak level of performance — a higher standard that is the future of leadership. So before you get lost in next week’s meetings and mandates, ask yourself, “what will I do to tap into that next gear as a leader?”