In 1977, Jackson Browne released a hit song called “Running on Empty.” The memorable chorus:

“Running on (running on empty)
Running on (running blind)
Running on (running into the sun)
But I’m running behind”

As I talk with leaders around the country, I find that these sentiments are echoing. Many leaders are running – but running on empty, running blind, running into the sun, and running behind.

The last 16 months have been incredibly difficult. The loss of life (over 4 million around the world as of today, over 600K of which are in the U.S.); the pressure that health care workers, first responders, teachers, business owners, and so many others have felt in this season; the economic roller coaster; the social disruptions; I could go on. Leaders in this season have had to lead through all this and more. And what I’m hearing more than anything else is a feeling of just being tired.

I get that. I’m tired too.

How do we as leaders handle it when we realize that our tanks are quickly moving toward empty? Here’s how I recommend leaders fill their tanks.

  1. Start with a perspective check.

I’m a person of faith, so for me, this means I pray. I realize that I am not the creator, sustainer, or center of the universe. I talk to God, and I find that this helps me to regain some perspective around the load I’m carrying, and how much of it is really mine to carry.

2. Ask the question – what fills my leadership tank?

What is it that recharges you? What inspires you to be a better leader? For me, this is the books I read and the people I spend time with – that’s the fuel that helps me to grow and fills my tank. I have a stack of books that I’m working through this summer, on purpose – I need more inspiration and fuel than I can ever remember. I’m also choosing to spend time with other leaders – from one-on-one meetings over coffee or lunch, to intentional learning opportunities like the Global Leadership Summit (where one of my favorite writers and speakers, Malcolm Gladwell, is speaking this year). This fills my leadership tank, and I’m making it a priority.

3. Now, intentionally schedule time to do that.

No kidding. Put it on your calendar. Schedule time to read, to think about leadership, to discuss what you’re learning with other leaders. What gets scheduled gets done. Good intentions often lead nowhere. (And if you haven’t read David Allen’s classic book, Getting Things Done, add it to your list. I have found it to be one of the most impactful books I’ve read).

4. Unplug. No, seriously.

Leaders, are you taking time this summer to unplug from the day to day grind and relax? After the season we’ve been in, you need to make this a priority. I know, I know – so many things to do, so much that is urgent. A well rested leader makes better decisions than one that is fried. Trust me, I know this one from experience.

5. Talk about it.

I talk about coaching a lot because it has made such a difference in my own life and leadership. I believe that every leader needs a coach who is FOR them, who can help them see what they cannot see, who can ask the right questions, and who can help them grow intentionally in their leadership journey. That’s what I’ve experienced, and that’s why I started serving and investing in others as a leadership coach. If you don’t have a coach that you can talk to about leadership and your current struggles, where you can develop next steps and discover what you can’t see right now, I highly encourage you to get one. It’s an investment I have never regretted.

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The next season of leadership will be here before you know it. It’s time to prepare now – get rested, fill that leadership tank, be intentional about what you read and who you spend time with, and engage a leadership coach to help you lead like never before. Your team, your organization, and your mission will benefit.

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