I recently had the opportunity to sit down with leadership expert Leslie Peters, author of Finding Time to Lead: Seven Practices to Unleash Outrageous Potential, which I reviewed for this site. We spoke about Peters’ twenty-five-year history of working with CEOs, the contradictory practices leaders should embrace, and what needs to be at the top of every CEO’s to-do list. Here is some of our conversation:
What inspired you to write Finding Time to Lead?
I interact with a lot of CEOs. They are busy people. Whether they’re leading a start-up or an established company, CEOs (and leaders at all levels) often feel anxious about the “leadership stuff” they know they should be doing. They either don’t have the time or don’t know what to do (or both), so they’re constantly feeling like they’re not doing enough. Finding Time to Lead grew out of my desire to provide tools and perspectives that can alleviate this anxiety and help leaders get on the path to being the great leaders they want to be.
In the book, you explain that “busy-ness” may, in fact, be a sign of anxiety or distress. How can you tell if this is the case?
Leaders who are doing all the time—running from meeting to meeting, cramming 12 hours of work into a ten-hour day, feeling pressured to make decisions because people can’t move without them—don’t have a second to reflect, and they’re actually missing key opportunities to lead. Leadership is not something you do; it’s someone you are.
Every time you walk into a room, every time you interact with someone, every time you attend a meeting, you are leading. Showing up as your best self requires only a split second longer than not showing up as your best self. If you’re too busy to take a breath and show up at your best, then the busy-ness is a problem that will cost precious time in the long run.
You encourage CEOs to say, “I don’t know.” Aren’t CEOs expected to have the answers?
Yes, CEOs are expected to have the answers, but in this fast-paced, constantly changing environment, is it really possible to have all the answers? Sometimes there just aren’t answers, especially in a particular moment. The answers we can get to are often incremental and not definitive. Sometimes it’s more productive to say, “I don’t know.” You can then go on to say, “Let’s see if we can find someone who does know,” and turn to those who have a different expertise than yours.
You also can go on to say, “There aren’t any answers right now; the situation is just too volatile. We’ll have to see how it shakes out over time.” Initially, the people around you might be surprised—or even disappointed—that you don’t have answers for every issue, but over time you will deepen their trust and expand their capacity for the ambiguity that’s inevitable in this environment.
How can past experiences inspire CEOs and how they lead others?
Our past experiences form and influence us in deep ways. They are the foundation from which our future actions spring. One of the first practices in the book is to explore the stories and experiences that have shaped our values. Our personal stories are a gold mine of opportunities to get clear about “who we are” and “what we care about.” Defining and understanding our core beliefs, and what drives us, helps us become the leaders we’re meant to be, instead of a copy or a knock-off version of a leader we admired in the past.
What’s should a CEO’s top priority be?
As a CEO or leader, your top priority is to figure out what’s important to you. How do you want to lead? And how can you show up as your best self in as many situations as possible every single day? Really, that’s why I wrote Finding Time to Lead: to offer perspectives and tools, in an easily digestible format, that will support leaders in doing just that.
To learn more about Leslie Peters and her new book, visit her website.