Four Pillars To Supercharge Your Leadership Capacity

AdVance Leadership » Four Pillars To Supercharge Your Leadership Capacity

Welcome to Friday 411, issue #023. In 4 minutes, with 1 insight and 1 action, you’ll discover the four pillars that increase your capacity as a leader. 

1 Insight

Busyness is the biggest obstacle to increasing your capacity as a leader. When you schedule Relationships, Recreation, Rest, and Reflection, you expand your capacity.

During my (Garland’s) doctoral research, I studied busyness in leaders and organizations. I grew interested in the topic in 2013 when my doctor told me that my own busyness was killing me.

Eventually, I discovered that busyness is harming all of us – physically, mentally, emotionally, and relationally. When I researched the effects of busyness on leaders and organizations, I learned that busyness significantly reduces productivity in companies as well.

The Biggest Obstacle to Leadership Capacity

At AdVance Leadership, we’ve found 7 traits that leaders must continually develop.

  1.   Character
  2.   Competence
  3.   Capacity
  4.   Clarity
  5.   Community
  6.   Culture
  7.   Consistency

When leaders develop these 7 traits, they can solve 95% of their leadership challenges.

Here’s where busyness comes in. The single biggest obstacle to increasing Capacity in your leadership is busyness. 

I spent years developing a five-step process to kill busyness. During that time, I became fixated on a question: what do the most productive and (un)busy leaders do differently than busy people? 

Out of that research emerged four pillars that these highly productive people built into their lives: Relationships, Recreation, Rest, and Reflection. These four pillars are called The Core 4. If you want to increase your Capacity, stress less, and accomplish more, implement The Core 4.

Pillar #1: Relationships

If you’re like many leaders, you are overcommitted because you care about others: family, friends, coworkers. In fact, your affection for others is one of the most common reasons that busyness happens. It’s hard to say no to the people you love.

However, the busier you get, the more likely it is that you crowd out relationships from your life. You stop engaging in relationships and merely endure them. (This is a condition known as depersonalization). Eventually, your busyness leads you to push people away.

If you’re going to be a high-capacity leader, you must build relationships into the core of your life. There are two specific types of Relationships to intentionally build:

  1. Your most important people. Schedule time with the most important people in your life. These people often share the same last name as you: spouse, kids, and parentsBuild time in your schedule to spend with these most important people. 
  2. Your most energizing people. Let’s be honest. Sometimes the most important people in your life are not the most energizing. Sometimes they’re the most exhausting. If you have kids, they may be the most important people to you, but they also may drain you faster than anyone else. Perhaps you have aging parents who require a lot of care.You need time for energizing people. Energizing people are the ones who make you feel alive, energized, and invigorated.

Pillar #2: Recreation

Recreation is any activity that you do for the sheer enjoyment of doing it. Most busy leaders don’t believe that they have time to do something “for the sheer enjoyment of it.” In fact, many think that recreation is a waste of time because it seems unproductive.

Dr. Stuart M. Brown, Jr. disagrees. Dr. Brown is one of the leading researchers on the effects of play in our lives. He writes, “It’s paradoxical that a little bit of non-productive activity can make one enormously more productive and invigorated in other aspects of life.” (Play: How It Shapes Our Brains, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.)

The reason that Recreation is so productive is that Recreation renews energy. You will never get your time back. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. But energy is renewable. Think of running a marathon. You expend vast amounts of energy running, so you renew your energy by eating a nutritious meal or sleeping.

The same is true in your leadership. You expend huge amounts of time and energy leading people every day. You will never get that time back. But you can renew your energy by participating in something you love to do.

To get the most out of Recreation, plan your play. Identify a few activities that you love to do. Maybe it’s hiking or watching movies or engaging in deep conversations or building LEGO® sets. Block time in your calendar to do those things.

Pillar #3: Rest

A friend of mine once returned from a vacation to Disney World in which his family walked twenty-nine miles in three days. When I asked him if he had taken the time to rest, he replied, “Rest? I’m so exhausted. I need a vacation from my vacation.” His time off increased his fatigue rather than allowing recovery.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for exciting vacations, but to busy people, Rest is a four-letter word that needs to be redeemed.

Here are two ways that you can intentionally build Rest into your life:

1. Sleep. 

Multiple studies have declared the importance of sleep. For example, the military has analyzed the effects of sleep deprivation on soldiers. “Sleep deprivation doesn’t just erode your reflexes, decision-making, and ability to learn; it also has physical effects. Sleep deprivation lowers your immunity and erodes your body’s ability to fight off infection.” (Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less.) Yet, we continue to ignore its importance.

Sleep is vital not only for your health but also for your leadership. When you sleep, you make better decisions, think more clearly, accomplish more, improve your memory, feel better, keep weight off more easily, and enjoy life more. All those benefits help you lead people better.

In addition to getting regular sleep at night, naps are also a great way to rest. Winston Churchill was famous for his midday naps during World War II. Let that sink in for a moment. During a devastating war, this critical leader tucked himself away for a daily slumber break.

2. Sabbath.

Design times in your life when you stop working and striving. One of the tools to help you stop is taking a Sabbath. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, Sabbath is a twenty-four-hour period in which no work takes place. Whether or not you’re a religious person, Sabbath can benefit you.

Sabbath is the single best practice I’ve ever found for rest and rejuvenation.  When you disengage from anything you define as work for a full day each week, you refill your energy, which makes you more productive.

Pillar #4: Reflection

Reflection often gets bad press from busy leaders. They have a mental image of an old bearded man sitting with legs crossed and chanting ohm as he tries to figure out the meaning of life.

When I talk about Reflection, I’m thinking of a championship football team. Championship teams review game film. It helps them capitalize on their strengths, examine their mistakes, and play better during the next game. In the same way, Reflection for leaders looks back so they can move forward.

When busy people don’t take time to reflect, they stay focused on what’s directly in front of them. That goes against the definition of being a leader: to see the future and then gather and mobilize others to accomplish that future.

Reflection can happen in two minutes each day by asking yourself three simple questions:

  1. What did I accomplish today? 
    Busy people tend to see only the things that they didn’t accomplish rather than all the things they did. I find it helpful to look back on what I accomplished and to celebrate those victories. For more on this, see the wonderful book The Gap and the Gain 
  2. What am I grateful for today? Create a gratitude list. It could include a conversation you had with a friend or maybe your biggest accomplishment of the day.This little act can have huge benefits: “When researchers pick random volunteers and train them to be more grateful over a period of a few weeks, they become happier and more optimistic, feel more socially connected, enjoy better quality sleep, and even experience fewer headaches than control groups.” (The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work.)


  3. What will I do differently? This question helps you reflect on mistakes you can correct and improvements you can make in the future. Only by looking back can you correct those mistakes.

These pillars—Relationships, Recreation, Rest, and Reflection—make up The Core 4. Busy leaders try to fit these into the nooks and crannies of their lives. Unfortunately, busy leaders don’t have nooks and crannies in their calendars.

When you schedule these four pillars first, you will increase your Capacity.

(For more on the effects of busyness, check out my book, Gettin’ (un)Busy: 5 Steps to Kill Busyness and Live with Purpose, Productivity, and Peace 

1 Action

Block time in your calendar for Relationships, Recreation, Rest, and Reflection.


Want to help your company unleash its leaders?

  1. Get your team to subscribe to the Friday411 newsletter.
  2. Get your copy of Gettin' (un)Busy, named by Forbes as “one of the books everyone on your team should read.”
  3. Email Garland to train your company’s leaders. We will equip them with 7 traits that solve 95% of their leadership challenges.
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