How to get out of a leadership rut


We spend so much time as leaders trying to engage, inspire and develop our people that we sometimes forget about our own need for engagement, inspiration and development.

Indeed, our ability to lead, to spot opportunities and add the greatest value to our businesses depends on it.

You might think that leaders are the last people to need motivating, but that’s not entirely true. Don’t get me wrong. I love running my own business, and I see exactly the same fire in the eyes of the founders and CEOs we work with. But it’s not all cake and sunshine.

Leadership grabs relentlessly at your time. There’s always something that needs doing, usually yesterday. And just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, something new drops, whether a crisis or a setback or an opportunity.

It’s easy therefore to get bogged down with your day-to-day responsibilities and unable to do your job as well as you know you can and need to do. When that happens, the excitement can begin to fade, and you can find yourself in a rut.

Fortunately, there are some tried and tested ways to get out of ruts, even for CEOs.

1. Make some time

All of the other solutions here require you to have some time and bandwidth. So while time is a precious resource for a leader and often the lack of time is a key reason you feel like you’re in a rut, you simply have to carve some out to work on yourself.

Doing this requires discipline and delegation. Go through your tasks and be ruthless. Is there anything someone else can help you with, even if it means it won’t quite be done the way you would do it yourself?

Is there any meeting you don’t need to attend? Aim to free up a morning a week at least.

2. Confide in someone

Most people, when they’re struggling, can talk to a colleague or even their boss. This isn’t really an option for the CEO, because for better or for worse people expect the CEO to radiate confidence and positivity.

But that doesn’t mean you have to keep it to yourself. Find a coach or a mentoring group, or even talk to friends and family. A problem shared is a problem halved – someone else might be able to help you identify the root cause of your withering motivation, and therefore to do something about it.

3. Get your head up

Leaders add the most value when their heads are up, when they are alive to opportunities and ideas. Use the time you have freed from having your head down in your daily work to reconnect with this fact.

Read a book. Play sports. Watch a movie. Visit a gallery. Go for a walk. Have a conversation. Whatever it is that helps get your creative juices going and helps get you thinking ‘what if?’ rather than ‘what now?’, do it – and don’t think about the work you could be doing instead. Think of it as an investment in reacquiring your mojo.

4. Challenge yourself

Take on a new project, or learn something new. This could be in your personal life (picking up the saxophone or getting conversational in Dutch) or in the business itself. You could learn about data or social media marketing, or take an executive education course.

It’s as much about the act of learning  – and proving to yourself that you can still learn new things – as it is about what you learn.

Final thoughts

Changing your state of mind is not easy for leaders, whose jobs are so full on. But by taking some time to learn new things and open your eyes to new possibilities, you’ll give yourself a serious leadership upgrade. You’ll also make a huge difference to your own wellbeing, which should never be forgotten in the rush to get results.

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Growth and Leadership

We demystify challenges by fresh thinking and seeking continual improvement. Browse our content here.

We demystify challenges by fresh thinking and seeking continual improvement. Browse our content here.