Sooner or later, what started as an entrepreneurial dream is going to become about leadership.
It usually happens pretty quickly.
The problem is that most of us aren’t any good at leadership.
Some of us know we’d rather not lead anyone.
Some of us think we’re great leaders, but in reality we’re just opinionated and loud.
Growing as a leader is going to help you no matter where your dreams go.
Enter, Dr. Friedman
Edwin Howard Friedman (May 17, 1932 — October 31, 1996) was an ordained Jewish Rabbi, family therapist, and leadership consultant .
I bet you didn’t know that the lesson you needed to learn about leadership would come from a family therapist, eh?
At the time of his death, Friedman had been working on a book.
Of course ideas of such importance would almost not make it into our world.
Published after his death, A Failure of Nerve, is a book about leadership.
Dr. Friedman turns common wisdom about leadership on its head. He has a way of seeing through the fog and saying what needs to be said.
This is not seen more clearly than when he discusses the topic of data.
He sets the stage on which he’ll teach the lesson:
If you went back in history by a factor of ten to the year 206 or 207, the amount of information that existed in the world then would fit in perhaps a single library or two. Ten times that number of years later, the quantity of data that is available to leaders is not ten times greater but a number so huge as to be unimaginable. […] Now, instead of going back almost two thousand years, suppose you were to project forward almost two thousand years. How much data (I use the word interchangeably with ‘information’) will there be ?
Dr. Friedman drives home his point:
What I am driving at is this: As long as leaders […] base their confidence on how much data they have acquired, they are doomed to feeling inadequate, forever. They will never catch up. The situation can only get worse .
Why is this such a big deal?
It’s a big deal because, according to Dr. Friedman, the greatest threat to your leadership is anxiety. And anxiety is easily triggered by this deluge of information. Specifically, it’s triggered by our chronically anxious society’s expectation that you must drink all available data in order to be successful.
This, Dr. Friedman warns, is an error of the greatest degree.
The addiction to data will kill your leadership, not improve it.
He explains this with the example of parenting:
[T]here is absolutely no evidence that the most successful parents are those who are most ‘knowledgeable’ of either the ‘proper’ techniques or the latest data on the children who are either most troubled or most happy .
A quick search on Amazon.com for “Leadership” books returned 190,663 results…
Is becoming a great leader really as simple as reading books on leadership?
Although many of us would answer no to that question, many of us do feel inadequate and we believe that our present unrealized dreams are due to our lack of knowledge in the face of the constant multiplication of information.
It’s still multiplying even as I write this…
So, if leadership is not about amassing more and more information, then what is it about?
There’s good news. It won’t be easy, but taking this to heart, wrestling with it, and putting it into practice will make you a less anxious, and therefore better, leader.
Leadership is about maintaining a non-anxious presence in an anxious environment.
By becoming aware of, and addressing your own emotional processes.
Read that sentence again.
Now read it again.
This doesn’t mean that it’s not helpful to learn more information. It simply means that amassing information does not lead to quality leadership.
As leaders, we are usually our own worst enemies and we’re constantly sabotaging ourselves. If we don’t slow down and regulate our inner emotional states, we will not be effective no matter how many books we read.
So, how do we address the data? We must do the more difficult work of waking up and recognizing.
Recognize where you have an addiction to information that numbs your fears of inadequacy.
“[R]ecognize that not all information is worth gathering” 
Recognize which information is important for your leadership
The answer to being a successful leader is to become a non-anxious person.
This is what is missing in organizations and businesses.
Of course, you won’t have all of the information, of course, you can’t read all of the books, of course, you can’t know everything. We keep thinking it’s mostly about what we know or who we know.
That might be true for some things, but leadership is about who you are.
Are you a person that constantly reacts to the stress around you? Do you get sucked into problems and tossed about by anxiety? Or, in moments of anxiety, do you bring a non-anxious presence to the situation.
That’s a leader.
When more information is needed, the leader finds it. When action is needed, the leader ignores the screams and itch for more information and she continues on with action.
The most important things, the game changers, are usually overlooked and not talked about. That’s why I’ve written this for you.
The secret to leadership is internal regulation, not external manipulation.
If you have begun to shift your perspective about what is most important for your leadership, then I’ve done my job here — or rather… Dr. Friedman has done his.
You already know you can buy the book on Amazon, but here’s a (non-affiliate) link if you’d like a shortcut. If it’s not already clear, I recommend the book.
On Friday, May 26th, 2007 I decided to start blogging six days a week. Today is my 50th daily dose. I take this little milestone as a time to reflect on 50 things I’ve learned so far.
Creativity is a discipline.
Writing is editing thoughts, editing words, editing fears.
Generating fresh ideas is easier when you’re not anxious.
Old ideas, said in a fresh and clear way, feel new.
Writing for yourself and those you love is better than writing for the masses.
Brainstorming and fleshing out ideas should happen under a blue sky. If one cannot be found, a cloudy one will do.
Doing something every day builds discipline in other areas of life as well.
What connects with people is not always what you think will.
When it’s difficult to come up with one idea to write about, try coming up with two instead.
The hard work is to write from the heart and the creativity of one’s own mind — not in reaction to others or a desire for their affirmation.
Writing is easy. Generating ideas on a consistent basis is difficult.
Consistency is becoming increasingly important in a world that is becoming increasingly flakey.
Wanting to do something matters not at all. Doing something matters, even if but a little.
One should be ready for the novelty of any new thing to wear off. Even though this can be difficult and take some of your motivation with it, it shows that you’re approaching the summit of solidifying the habit. Getting through the difficult times where you want to quit is essential to reaching the summit. This experience will come with anything that matters.
Writing each day is a way of slowing one’s experience of time.
Writing each day, if for selfish ambition, is a way of wasting time.
Searching for ideas is best done with the assumption that they are everywhere and multiplying at a rate that is impossible to calculate.
Saying something clearly and concisely is an exercise we should all try.
Writing is not just about conveying information, just as a sheet of music is not.
It’s one thing to have an idea, it’s another to describe it, it’s a whole other thing to do it, and still more to live it consistently.
All truth belongs to God, wherever it is, whatever it is.
Anxiety is a heart that pumps so quickly that the blood moves into the brain so fast that it comes back out before it can generate a new idea.
Writing is just about choosing which words will sit next to each other today to form the orchestra — whether a good orchestra or a bad one.
Some people won’t like your writing, just like some people don’t like ska music.
Nothing you create is for everyone. Accepting this will bring you more peace, more focus, and more purpose.
Writing is just speaking on paper, a transcribing of one’s inner voice.
Silencing fear and deflating the ego is the necessary job of every writer, just as they are the job of everyone who desires to live well.
Most great things have been written — either before, during, or after they happened.
The reminder that I’ve made my commitment to write daily somewhat public has been just enough to continue the project during early morning fatigue and rough weeks.
Writing is a way of rooting oneself squarely in the present.
Most things are like writing — if you don’t sit down and do them, they won’t happen.
Writing is a way of slowing down and sifting through thoughts — a form of prayerful meditation.
Writing often and being forced to send your work out there before you consider it perfect helps to starve your ego, your pride, and your perfectionism.
Nothing is really new, just communicated in a fresh way.
Ideas are like vegetables. You grow vegetables by taking care of the soil. At times you have a lot of vegetables. If you want to have some vegetables during the winter months, you will need to preserve them in an accessible place.
Habits really do form if you press through the difficult, early days.
Most of the work is done before you sit down to write.
Keeping an eye on who reads your writing and how many people read your writing will not help your writing.
Finding time to write is as simple as becoming aware of your time.
Building a habit is like paving a road in the mountains. It’s difficult at first and at some point, you will become extremely tired and ready to quit. But, by choosing to press through, you will reach your destination. Then, for the future, the road will be paved and will probably only require regular maintenance and infrequent upgrades as you easily drive on it every day.
It’s possible to overthink, just like it’s possible to overeat.
Underthinking and undereating are things too.
Doing something regularly and over a long period of time requires that you actually value the thing.
Writing often is a way of getting out the mediocre stuff so that you can find the real stuff.
Creating an environment that is conducive to you doing a specific thing, like writing, is essential to doing the thing.
Each successful habit you build brings confidence, making the next one easier.
Writing six days a week, instead of seven, is a way of reminding yourself that you are not what you do and you are not what you write.
To write something you care about, you will probably have to write a lot of things you don’t care about.
After 50 days of doing something, you might still care what people think about it.
Surrendering the outcome is how you press on each day.
This is Dose #50 in A Daily Dose— a project where I write 6 days a week on diverse subjects like leadership, minimalism, entrepreneurship, faith, and wellness.
It’s not for everyone, but maybe it’s for you.
I’ve finished A Daily Dose in late 2017 after 125 (almost) consecutive days of blogging. You can find more information and a link to all 125 posts here.
After you remove the outliers, the path to success (in anything) for the rest of us almost always involves a series of simple, but difficult, choices.
One of these choices is especially simple and especially difficult.
It’s the choice to surrender.
It’s the art of opening your hands.
It’s the painful practice of letting go.
To live better, you don’t need tons of money, fame, or respect, you just have to open your hands.
Let go of failure before you fail.
Fear of failure has nothing to do with failure and everything to do with your fear. Failure is just a perspective on a result.
If you let go of failure, the idea of it will have less power over you.
In fact, imagine your worst-case-scenario failure…
It’s really not that bad.
And, is your project, thing, piece, worth it? Is doing it worth the possibility of that?
If it’s not… stop anyway.
Open your hands and let failure fall.
In the end, what you imagine as failure might just be a door to something even better.
Let go of other people’s opinions.
This is a big one. Life can not be lived well when it’s led in reaction to other people’s (perceived) opinions.
First, we don’t even really know what others are thinking. That’s not to say that our mind hasn’t convinced itself that it knows exactly what other people are thinking about you and your work.
Secondly, why does it matter so much? In reality, it doesn’t. What we feel is just the constant itch of our addiction — the monkey on our back named need for approval.
When you open your hands and let go of other people’s opinions about you and your work, you will find a measure of life that you have not yet found.
And your work will be better for it.
Let go of your own unhealthy expectations.
Of course, it’s good to get feedback and constructive criticism from our clients, friends, and mentors. But that’s a whole different thing than the need to be approved by others and, especially, ourselves.
Many of us are our own worst critics.
Like a father that needs and pushes his child to become the professional baseball player that he never was, we push ourselves toward our ideal of who we shouldbe.
We do this because our identity has become wrapped up in what we do and what we produce.
The thing is… it will never be enough.
A full life includes work and projects and creation — but it’s so much more than that.
Simply being alive (assuming you have the basic necessities to live) is a gift that should be shared and enjoyed.
Open your hands and live.
There are many, many things that we hold in our hands.
At times, we’re certain that if this thing fails, if those people think I’m _______________, or if I don’t make this I’m _______________, that life is not going to be all it could be.
In reality, we’re strangling the life out of life.
Keeping your fists closed does nothing but increase disorder, multiply anxiety, and keep you from new, possibly better, opportunities.
I know it’s difficult to live this out. That’s why I started by saying that it’s the difficult things, especially this one, that make all the difference in living a whole life.
Life is more than success or failure, other people’s opinions, or my own, often unhealthy, expectations of myself.
Life is meant for living and that’s what you should do.
Open your hands.
If you do this, I don’t know exactly what will happen for you, but I do know that any life is a lot more enjoyable with empty hands.
If that’s not enough, open hands mean less anxiety which means more flexibility, creativity, and breakthrough ideas.
And, remember, it’s an art. Practice it, figure out what things you need to let go of and what works for you, but most importantly…