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Opinion: A heartbeat away from leadership

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During a recent panel discussion featuring top executives from leading construction firms, we unearthed a startling trend. The event was hosted by the Construction Financial Management Association and covered the four-state area of Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas. The moderator posed what seemed to be a simple question about how we knew when we were ready to assume the mantle of leadership. I answered first, recounting that the original plan was to spend three years gradually transitioning into the top executive role. However, less than nine months into the transition in August 2013, my predecessor, Dwain Gold, suffered a heart attack, and I had to assume the role immediately. Strangely enough, the next executive in line on the panel had a similar story, as did the others that followed.

Each of the three panelists disclosed that they had been thrust into their current roles earlier than expected due to the sudden health crises of their predecessors – specifically, heart attacks. This statistic not only highlights the intense pressures and health risks associated with high-stakes leadership roles but also serves as a poignant reminder of the critical need for readiness and comprehensive well-being in such positions. As all three leaders shared, none felt entirely prepared at the moment they stepped up, yet the demand of the situation left no room for hesitation.

The lesson here is twofold and stark: First, the pathway to leadership might come faster than one anticipates. Preparation cannot begin when an opportunity arises; it must be an ongoing endeavor. Second, and perhaps more crucially, the health of a leader not only affects their own life but can also dictate the continuation of leadership and the health of an organization. It underscores the importance of maintaining physical and mental well-being to withstand the demands of leadership without succumbing to its potentially debilitating pressures.

How the pressures of leadership are managed often comes down to mindset and thinking more long-term. The power of long-term thinking helps organizations embrace a growth mindset, build resilient teams and achieve lasting success. In the book “The Infinite Game,” Simon Sinek expands on the work of James Carse’s “Finite and Infinite Games,” particularly in how game theory pertains to business. Many believe the game of business is won by increasing sales, taking market share and growing profits. All of these are worthy pursuits. However, if you change the rules and assume the game is won by building a company that lasts forever, that changes things.

With this new mindset, you quickly realize that every position in an organization is an interim position. You only hold it for a period of time until someone steps in as your replacement. In ancient times, the concept of cathedral building taught us this. Projects would begin and might not see completion until four or five generations down the road. They got really good at passing the vision on. In a recent meeting, I asked our team to consider what it would take for our company to still be functioning 300 years from now. One of our field supervisors thought for a minute and said it means we have to start doing things differently today. That’s the point.

These revelations serve as a call to action for current leaders to foster environments where upcoming leaders are prepared well in advance for unexpected ascensions. Mentorship and proactive development programs are essential in ensuring a seamless transition during unforeseen events.

In a broader sense, this discussion invites leaders across industries to reflect on their personal health and professional preparedness. The blend of high responsibility and intense stress common in leadership roles can take a significant toll if not managed properly. Leaders are encouraged to implement stress-reduction techniques, regular health check-ups and a balanced lifestyle that prioritizes well-being alongside professional achievements.

As we navigate the complexities of leadership, it’s essential to remember the impermanence of life and the importance of enjoying the journey. Achieving true success is about striking a reasonable integration between making meaningful impacts and ensuring personal health and happiness. Additionally, we come to understand that the game is won by continuing the game. Let this be a reminder and an inspiration for all current and aspiring leaders to prepare diligently and care deeply, not just for their careers, but for their lives as well.

Ron Bogart is the CEO of Gold Mechanical Inc. He can be reached at rbogart@goldmechanical.com.

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