How to Master the Personal Challenges of Leadership

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In a recent McKinsey report, various senior leaders were interviewed about ‘Leadership in the 21st century’. One questions dealt with one of the most imporant parts of leadership: mastering the personal challenges involved. Below you can read an excerpt of some of the answers. What can you learn from it?

What are these personal challenges?

The rigors of leadership have prompted many leaders to think of themselves as being in training, much like a professional athlete: continually striving to manage their energy and fortify their character. There is a growing recognition of the connection between physical health, emotional health, and judgment—and of how important it can be to have precise routines for diet, sleep, exercise, and staying centered.

Moya Greene (Royal Mail Group)

The first criterion is: do you love it? It’s a sevenday-a-week job. I think that’s true for anyone in these roles. If you don’t love the company and the people—really love them— you can’t do a job like this.

I’m pretty energetic. I start at five in the morning. I don’t even think about it anymore; the alarm goes off and I’m up. I go for a 30-minute run. I do weight training three mornings a week. I try to eat well, but not too much. I’m a big walker—that’s my favorite thing. I try to get a good walk every weekend. I go on walking vacations.

Dan Vasella (Novartis)

I talk to my team about the seductions that come with taking on a leadership role. There are many different forms: sexual seduction, money, praise. You need to be aware of how you can be seduced in order to be able to resist and keep your integrity.

Every CEO needs someone who can listen—a board member, an adviser—someone to whom he can speak in total confidence,
to whom he can say, “I’ve had it; I’m about to resign.” Or, “I really want to beat this guy up.” You need someone who understands and can help you to find the balance. Leaders often forget the importance of stable emotional relationships—especially outside the company. It helps tremendously to manage stress. Your partner will do a lot to help keep you in sync.

You have to be able to switch on and switch off. Are you entirely present when you’re present? Can you be entirely away when you’re away? The expectation is that your job is 24/7. But no one can be the boss 24/7. You need to have a moment when you say, “I’m home now,” and work is gone.

Carlos Ghosn (Renault/Nissan)

Leading takes a lot of stamina. I became CEO at 45. But I was working like a beast. You think, “So I work 15, 16 hours a day; who cares?” But you can’t do that when you are 60 or 65.
And now companies are more global. So you have jet lag, you are tired, the food is different. You have to be very disciplined about schedules and about organizing everything. Physical discipline is crucial, for food, exercise, sleep. I live like a monk—well, maybe not a monk, but a Knight Templar. I wake at a certain hour, sleep at a certain hour. There are certain things I won’t do past a certain time.

Ellen Kullman (DuPont)

I spend a lot more time on communication, more time out at plant sites, in sales offices, with customers, in our research laboratories. I’m bringing my board of directors to India in a couple of weeks to help them really see the issues we’re facing.

That’s where I get my energy from. It’s contagious. I come away from these engagements with ideas, energy, and a real sense of focus on where we as a company need to go. That’s part of what drives me.

Shimon Peres (Israel)

The mind of a leader must be free—a mind that can dream and imagine. All new things were born in dreams. A leader must have the courage to be a nonconformist, just like a scientist. He must dream, even if he dreams alone or if people laugh at him. He must not let his heart falter.

Today, the separation between generations is stronger than between nations. Our children say, “Please don’t impose upon us your own arrogance—the world you created, wounded by war, corrupted by money, separated by hatred. And don’t try to build artificial walls between us and other youngsters.” Because they were born in a new age. For them, the modern equipment of communication is what paper and pen are for us. They can communicate much more easily
and don’t feel all this hidden discrimination that we were born with and find so difficult to get rid of.

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