The idea that who you are is how you lead is becoming increasingly important. As COVID-19, economic freefall, and social injustice, shake the world, leaders are being asked to do more than ever before, even when entering a new role. Being, not just doing, is the only way to meet the challenge head on and ensure your people and organisation thrive.
In a recent interview with McKinsey, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital CEO Michael Fisher, explained that since the beginning of the pandemic, he has started to write “to be” lists alongside his daily to do list.
“I’ve always had a decent amount of discipline around writing down “to-dos”— you know, I want to make sure I do A, B, and C today,” he said. “But I never purposefully gave thought to whether there’s a way to be really intentional about how I want to show up every day. So I’ve added a “to be” list to my repertoire.”1
Fisher is in a leadership position in healthcare during a healthcare crisis. If he thinks this is a pertinent time to reflect on “being”, then it’s something we can all prioritise.
For those entering a new leadership role, being driven by who you are and who you aspire to be, can provide a clear going in position that allows you to hit the ground running. If you’re clear on the why, you’ll be better equipped to answer the what and how.
Leaders are inherently busy people. Most are in the habit of making daily to do lists, but few focus on the intentions behind tasks with the same focus and regularity. We need to start asking: what does it mean “to be” a leader on a day-to-day, task to task, communication to communication basis look like?
There is a commonly accepted tenet that leaders entering a new role have 90 days to make an impact. But in reality people will be making judgements from your very first interactions and actions. A to do list will be useful once you’ve begun to understand the inner working of your organisation and teams. However, armed with a “to be” list, you can make an impact in the first 90 seconds.
It will also help you to shape ideas around what not to do, or what needs to stop, which can be just as important as understanding what to keep or create. You’ll be able to make decisions quickly when you know the values driving them. And your solutions will be more innovative. Think of a painter in the flow of creation, they’re not thinking about what they need to do, they’re mindfully being an artist.
Great purpose-led businesses have clear principles that guide their every action. Great purpose-led leaders need the same.
Just as everything at outdoor clothing brand Patagonia ladders up to minimising impact on the environment2, leaders should think about their macro “to be”. What is it that will drive your actions on a, not only personal, but organisational, community and global, level? How will you be a systemic leader?
Once you have this overarching purpose, you can think about the values and traits that will ensure you meet this purpose every day. Here are some ideas for your “to be” list:
Start by picking out just one or two qualities each morning and then every time you take on a task, speak to others or make a decision, reflect on whether you’re being those things.
As leaders, we’ve stepped up and taken responsibility. This is a courageous act, but one that takes continual work. As you transition to a new role, it’s the perfect opportunity to reflect on who you are as a leader and who you want to be.