As leaders, we’re continually pulled in many directions — both in and out of the office. How to stay centered? How to lead with clarity in a world of constantly changing variables? How to not just survive but thrive? This spring, I had the delightful honor of joining Sheryl Clark, president and CEO of Boston Proper, and Margaret Moraskie, vice president, marketing and e-commerce, Levenger, at the Women in Retail Leadership Summit in pondering these questions out loud. We shared seven verbs that serve as meaningful guideposts as we gain clarity day in and day out in both our personal and professional lives.
Here are our seven soulful verbs:
Remember: What’s my why?
As Simon Senek has rightly counseled, we remind ourselves to “Start with WHY?” We try to remember our initial motivations before proceeding in a new direction. Why did we start this new venture? This new habit? This important project or product? We pause to remember what our early dreams and starting points were, and why they do or do not remain relevant.
In their book, “The Founder’s Mentality,” Chris Zook and James Allen encourage leaders to dive deep into the original WHY of their company’s purpose. Margaret Moraskie shared, “Levenger was founded by Steve and Lori Leveen years ago to solve a pain point: readers needed better lighting! Today, their founding mission continues on as we create thoughtfully designed and beautifully crafted products that inspire and delight, products to help our customers pursue their passions and achieve their goals. This mission clarifies all we do.”
Reflect: What am I doing with this one precious life?
This was poet Mary Oliver’s profound question, and one that we find useful in and out of the office for reflecting on and evaluating our priorities. When we look at our calendar, just how are we spending our days? Do we take time to pause and reflect? Do we incorporate necessary time-outs?
In his book, “Deep Work,” Professor Cal Newport advocates for slow working days (like slow food and slow travel patterns) set apart for planning and focused strategic conversations. Bill Gates has his “Think Weeks.” We three like to take think days quarterly — both for ourselves and our work.
Sheryl Clark shares: “Reflection is one of the most underused yet powerful tools for success. To gain insight, I spend a lot of time reflecting when things are going well and dissecting when they’re challenging. As I’ve gotten older, my rapid decision making and comments still drive me, but I temper them with ‘let me process this and get back to you’ or encourage my teams to think through potential unintended consequences.”
Read and Write: Where do your curiosities take you?
Reading and writing are two of my all-time favorite pastimes — starting in kindergarten! I loved learning that Warren Buffet reads 500-plus pages a day. I also value just how important the art of writing freehand on paper can be to sort out the jumbles of personal and professional thoughts that fill our minds. (Levenger calls this journaling process, “The Peace of Paper!”)
Being a lifelong learner — reading and writing where your curiosities take you — is a great way to gain leadership clarity. Moraskie shared the power of digital detoxes to increase productivity as well as the analog practice of simple list making. “Take time to create a gratitude list,” she advised. “Prompting ourselves to take a moment to document the plusses of our life really helps us gain perspective, especially during trying times.”
In addition to gratitude lists, I have two other list-making practices that I advocate. One is a “Mad and Sad List” that simply lets me blow off some steam about circumstances that aren’t always moving in the direction I want. I find that once I vent on paper, I can usually set those distracting feelings free and move on more positively.
And then there’s my “Envy List,” where I jot down the things — usually behaviors — that I want to emulate from others. Behaviors such as an unhurried pace, a more intentional way of listening, a more measured response … these are qualities I notice in others that I want to incorporate into my life.
Mindfulness practitioners advise us to “pay attention to what you’re paying attention to,” and I take this advice to heart as I scribble out my lists. Harvard Business Review recently shared Maura Thomas’ counsel to strengthen our skill in attention management. “Better attention management leads to improved productivity, but it’s about much more than checking things off a to-do list. The ultimate result is the ability to create a life of choice around things that are important to you.”
Andrea Syverson is the founder and president of IER Partners, and has dedicated more than 20 years to providing clients both domestic and international with innovative approaches to branding, product development and creative messaging. She’s the author of two books in which she shares her hands-on approach for both brand building and creating customer-centric products that enhance brands: “ThinkAbout: 77 Creative Prompts for Innovators,” and “BrandAbout: A Seriously Playful Approach for Passionate Brand-Builders and Merchants.”