How to Lead Well: Fuel and Spaces

Laura Mears
Laura Mears
Fire burning in a metal bin as a metaphor of how to lead well

When considering how to lead well, it can be helpful to think of the example of a fire.

What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.
So building fires
requires attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.
When we are able to build
open spaces
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible.
We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.
A fire
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.

Fire by Judy Brown

How balanced is your life?

Building a good life can be a bit like laying a good fire. Recently, we went camping in the South Downs, near sunny Brighton. It was fun but freezing! As the sun went down, we clustered around the fire-pit, only to be smoked out like kippers. Maybe the wood was damp? Then someone – it might have been the only guy in the party, but I am not going to credit that! – moved the logs around, creating a well of space in the centre.  Slowly but surely, the fire settled and the smoke cleared.  There was nothing wrong with the fuel, it was just too densely packed.  Removing a log or two sorted out the problem, and the fire began to burn merrily.

Do you have enough space? 

Having a tightly-packed diary can stifle enjoyment and create anxiety and fatigue.  As in-person meeting opportunities start to emerge, we will necessarily need to leave time for travel, and it can be tempting to think of this as inefficient. But I am encouraging myself to walk to meetings without making a phone call, allowing myself to internally process and notice the birds and the flowers. Many, many people have burned out by packing things in too tightly, and not leaving enough space to centre, reflect and allow spontaneity. How to lead well might involve saying no to some appointments, and instead schedule opportunities to stop, walk, think or simply have no agenda?

Is your fuel fit for purpose?

We are all different, so we all have different things that energise or fuel us. Most of us decide what goes into our day, not according to our preferences, but according to our assumed or adopted expectations of what it looks like to play that role. I know leaders who prefer collaboration, but feel they ought to stay in their office making tough decisions alone because that is what their predecessor did. Think of the appointments in your day as fuel, and make sure you put some things into your day that are energising, and really play to your particular strengths. That’s how to lead well.

Fuel for Thought

Odell Shepherd said, “One can enjoy a wood fire worthily only when he warms his thoughts by it as well as his hands and feet.” Allowing oneself to just be, enjoying the hypnotic beauty of the moving flames is golden thinking time.  I can allow my thoughts to just bumble along, and afterwards I can find that my ideas have organized themselves, or my creativity has been sparked, or the space has simply given rise to a feeling of gratitude and wellbeing. There is no point building a fire unless you can enjoy it, preferably with others, a glass of wine, and a few marshmallows!

So let’s create the space we need to go at a pace that enables us to be present to enjoy the fire’s warmth. And let’s examine our work style to make sure we are leading in a way that fuels our fires, rather than smokes us out.

If you would like to go on a journey to discover more about what fuels you and how to lead well, fill out a personality assessment here – It takes 20 minutes and requires signing up to a free leadership platform but it’s worth it!

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