Sep 16, 2022 - Economy & Business

In leadership, be like Goldilocks

Illustration of a newspaper with the Axios logo and a thought bubble.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

I had one speed when we launched Politico 15 years ago: fast and furious.

  • That was terrific for muscling a new brand into existence — but terrible for retaining talent. Soon, we were haunted by a reputation for being a sweatshop with an untenable burnout rate.

Why it matters: One speed for all circumstances is a crazy, reckless way to drive through life. We all need to learn to swerve away from running too hot or too cold, too often.

A little too hot or too cold is healthy: The extreme highs and lows can sharpen us, and open our minds to new ideas and emotions.

  • But we make our worst, impulsive, foggy decisions when our emotional RPMs are always redlining. This is true in leadership, at work and in relationships.
  • It took me 40 years to realize it — and the past decade to truly put it into practice.

Instead, modulate — and moderate — your reactions in tense times. Here's how:

1. Be aware: Do a self-inventory of how you respond when stress or good times hit. Do you freak out or yell in bad moments? Do you suffer delusions of grandeur in good ones?

2. Know thyself: Identify your triggers. In past jobs, I'd tend to lose it when people acted in a dishonest or lazy way. On the other hand, when someone shined at one thing, I tended to assume they'd rock at everything. In both cases, I've worked on calibrating my response.

3. Tame thyself: You can't just muscle yourself into self-control or growth. You need to know specific things that give you calm or clarity. Mine are a mix of faith, meditation, daily exercise and self-appraisal.

4. Practice good-times paranoia: This is particularly true in leadership — temper your optimism or self-love when things are rocking. Realize some of it is luck or good timing. Enjoy the moment, but be a little paranoid about how it happened — or how long it can last.

5. Practice bad-times optimism: You learn the most about yourself and others when things go to crap. In the mud of life is where character blooms. So when a bad moment hits, see it as a great learning moment.

The bottom line: Tiny fixes add up to big change.

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