6 strategies for leadership in everyday life

The leaders I admire carry the talents and traits they perfect in the workplace home with them, and it pays off in their personal relationships

This article originally appeared in the July 2021 Police1 Editor's Picks newsletter. Click here to subscribe.

We tend to think of leadership principles in the context of our work as LEOs, but it occurred to me recently that all the great leaders I admire also have their personal lives in order. These leaders carry those talents and traits they perfect in the workplace home with them, and it pays off in their personal relationships.

In this roundup, I would like to share those leadership traits I believe help improve our home life.

Seek to understand first

If you want to expand your leadership practices outside of work become fluent in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” With this book, author Stephen R. Covey transformed the lives of presidents, CEOs, educators and parents. The seven habits are all crucial to being an effective leader and translate to your personal life. Covey’s principles adapt just as well to the family room as the boardroom. My favorite example is habit 5, seek first to understand, then to be understood. Properly employed, this principle will improve every communicative relationship you have. It’s akin to the principle of active listening and the empathy that comes with that practice. The result is good rapport, and a good rapport abhors conflict. A relationship lacking conflict will move forward. Whether it be a marriage, a friendship, or a parent/child relationship, habit 5 will make you highly effective at relationships.  

Address the conflict in the room

And now, speaking out of the other side of my mouth, controlled, well-timed conflict can be a good thing as referenced in “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable” by Patrick Lencioni. The second of the five dysfunctions listed in the book is fear of conflict. A marriage counselor acquaintance told me his clients’ most common problem was not telling their partner something they did was bothersome. Those issues fester without communication through controlled, respectful conflict.    

The leadership principles embodied by these authors can help teach us to focus on what’s important when it’s important.
The leadership principles embodied by these authors can help teach us to focus on what’s important when it’s important.

Be here now

“The ability to focus and concentrate on what you are doing right now is what we call Be Here Now,” according to the textbook, “Leadership, Teambuilding and Culture Change,” by Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group. We all have been guilty of thinking about work while we’re at home. It is imperative we focus on our personal lives when we’re not at work. That means when your child, spouse, or friends engage you, be here now! Focus on them and what they are communicating to you. If you become successful at the concept in your personal life, you’ll become more successful at work. As the text outlines, the value of being here now is increased productivity and quality: When we focus 100% of our efforts and avoid distractions, we can reach our highest levels of performance. After just a few weeks of this practice, I saw my performance and engagement at work increase dramatically. Give it a try.

Own your responsibilities

Another principle I’ve applied to my daily life is the fundamental concept from the book, “Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, which teaches team members to not only take care of their own responsibilities but also attempt to help their teammates with theirs. This accomplishes a few things from my experience: (1) You make sure your responsibilities are thoroughly squared away and completed as soon as possible so there is time to back up their teammates, and (2) there will be positive peer pressure coming in your direction if you don’t live up to your responsibilities. That’s a powerful motivator. How do we apply this to our personal life? Imagine how your spouse would react if you not only took care of your delineated chores but some of theirs as well. What if you both proactively did so? What would be the result? In my experience, more time to spend with each other and less potential for animosity.   

Kids as leaders

Teaching your kids – or anyone’s kids – to be leaders is a worthwhile endeavor, as leadership traits improve your quality of life regardless of your professional station. Here’s an example from my life: I have always had a terrible time with directions and had to work hard to learn to navigate. I used pneumonic devices, studied maps and drove around trying to get lost to overcome this issue. It worked but the process was more difficult than it should have been. I didn’t want my daughter to have that struggle. When she was about seven, I started asking her, “What direction are we going?” Her initial reaction was a questioning look and a shoulder shrug. I never chastised her. I just gave her the answer and changed the topic. It became a game and she quickly caught on. When we would leave a store, I’d ask her where we’d parked. She started paying attention to where we’d parked before we went into the store. After she achieved some competence and confidence, I put her in charge of knowing where the car was. It’s a little embarrassing to admit a few of those times my kid directed me to our car, I wasn’t playing the game. 

Leadership principles are life principles

Speaking of directions, where are you going with your respective personal and professional lives? Are they going in opposite directions? I know too many cops who retired and were left with nothing because they had neglected their friends and family for most of their careers. I recommend Dr. Kevin Gilmartin’s “Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement” and training from the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation for more on this topic. (Dr. Gilmartin recently participated in a webinar on emotional survival 2.0, which is available for on-demand viewing.) Too many cops have difficulty separating their work and home lives. They may have confused separating their personal and professional roles with separating their personal and professional traits and qualities. Leadership teaches us to focus on what’s important when it’s important. Take that home with you after your next shift.

Next: Managing stress to strengthen relationships at home

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