Leadership on the Edge – Part 1 | Jackie Crispin Brown
jackie crispin brown

This is the first installment of a 2-part series exploring what it looks like to lead authentically, deeply committed and yet not to depletion. Today I write about giving ourselves utterly to the act of leadership; to find and sustain our best performance for the long game.

I am fascinated by speed. I’m not talking about 110km in a 100km zone. I mean real speed, on a racetrack. My bias is motorbike riders who make a living from going very, very fast. They travel flat out at times, around 350 kmph, sustained lap after lap, in a race of an hour or more. They lean at angles so low they scrape not just knees but also elbows. The braking force is upwards of 4gs. Performing on the edge, bringing their whole self to the moment, and still looking for another second or two. They bring focused intensity to their entire race. Then back up the next day to practice again and again for hundreds of laps, again with focused intensity. There is no question, that in the moment these people give themselves utterly..

To give myself utterly, does not mean throwing myself at something to the point that I am completely depleted, and need to collapse. It’s about bringing myself wholeheartedly to my chosen activity. It is being courageous enough to face down the questions of ‘am I enough’, ‘what if I get it wrong’ ‘what if I can’t find the right words’ ‘what if I’m fooling myself’. Giving myself utterly means I am willing to show up, be vulnerable, and play at the edge, my personal best. It means having the resources to do this over and over again. It’s not a super hero, one-off effort that I might occasionally be capable of. It’s about managing myself in this space to ensure it is sustainable. There are many examples from creative pursuits like writing, music and art where these creators have given themselves utterly to their pursuit and yet lost themselves so utterly they cannot come back, with tragic consequences. I’m talking about giving myself utterly and being capable of repeating my effort.

To perform at the very edge of my limit is exhilarating. I’m in control, I’m present, aware and learn from what I’m doing. I am not experiencing terror. Adrenaline is not running my body such that my brain has stopped working, I am not ‘over the edge’. I’m safe enough to perform and challenged enough to be invigorated. Performing at the edge feels solid.

You might be asking yourself ‘and what has this got to do with leadership?’ Good question! What has this got to do with your leadership? What does giving yourself utterly mean to you? Working really long hours and arriving home, exhausted with nothing left to share with your loved ones? Or perhaps it’s trying to meet every demand from your staff, every need and then those of your board or boss. Do you give everything while damaging yourself? Self sacrifice, for the cause? So often, these are our examples of giving ourselves utterly. Examples of hyper performance not high performance.

Leading from your edge means working from strength and stretching into potential. It may mean allowing insight to lead in a new way, to be present in a challenging conversation, to show up to a challenging meeting with intention and presence, to bring all of yourself to co-creating a vision with your team, to find the resilience to lead in great uncertainty. Every day provides an opportunity to practice leading on your edge.

I find over committing to many ‘worthwhile ventures’ is a sure fire way of not giving myself utterly. You see if I over-commit, I become too busy to give my all to the one most important pursuit. It’s a habit of avoidance. I spread myself thinly, maybe adequately, over many things and that becomes a justifiable excuse to not perform in that seemingly daunting space of my edge, where my all is demanded. Pretty sneaky really. I back it up with exhaustion and then collapse. I step aside from managing myself and I haven’t had to courageously stare down the big question of what if my all isn’t enough! This is not a centred place.

In contrast, let me describe a fabulous example of a leader, giving herself utterly. A client, Penny is confronted with the unpleasant combination of a market downturn, legislative changes and bedding down recent acquisitions. Share price has tumbled, analysts unfriendly. It is a great recipe for stress and panic. Penny knows her core purpose is to lead and she is fully aware of how much both the board and her employees need her now to give herself utterly to leading. Firstly she recognises that she can set aside those activities that are not directly about leading. She brings focus and intensity to the activity of leading. Penny can recognise and face the doubts that arise because she resources herself. She maintains a regular yoga practice, seeks wise counsel, eats well, spends some time alone, and is judicious in the way she spends her time. It would be easy to throw this resourcing away to give herself utterly. Yet being fully resourced is the place from which she can perform from her edge daily.

Now, how can you find your leadership edge? Part 2 is all about the practice of finding your edge. A valuable guide with practices to support you leading wholeheartedly, on your edge!

Can’t wait for part 2? Contact me to gain more support in learning to lead on your edge.

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