Pull out your wallet. What’s in it? Some old receipts from dinner last week. Your AAA card. A spare key to your house. I have a friend whose chiropractor made him get a smaller one because he had so much crap in his wallet that he was hurting his back by sitting on it. On the opposite end of that spectrum, I have a friend who uses a big binder clip to hold his money and cards together; cheap, but effective.

A leadership wallet is similar to your physical wallet. It’s a representation of what you keep close to you for when you need it on a daily basis. And like the physical wallet, it represents a lot about you. Let’s take a look at the different items you can include and how you can determine what’s best for your leadership.

Identification

A real ID contains the basics about you, like name and whether you wear glasses. Your leadership identification should include these basics: leadership style, mindset, and emotional intelligence. These are what define you, like DNA defines your height and eye color. Set aside time to sit down and purposefully get to know your leadership basics. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is my default leadership style? The style of leadership you use should be adaptable to the team and individuals you are leading, but you need to understand why you use one particular style over the others so that you know how to change. This will take time and a lot of feedback to see where you’re most and least effective, but the right mindset (see #2 below) will help greatly with this. You can learn more about leadership styles here.
  2. Where do I have a growth mindset and fixed mindset? Adaptability versus stagnation. It’s important to remember that everyone is a mixture of both mindsets; you can have a growth mindset on one topic but a fixed mindset on another topic. You have to analyze where your fixed mindset flares up and what the root of that is. Check out Carol Dweck’s Mindset to get an in-depth look.
  3. How strong is my emotional intelligence? Your emotional intelligence is made up of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill. Analyzing each of these is important for two reasons. The first is that you’re creating a clearer picture of how you manage yourself and your relationships; the second is that it signifies your acute investment in personal development. Check out Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence and Travis Bradberry’s Emotional Intelligence 2.0 for more.

Insurance

People carry multiple forms of insurance, such as health and auto. Your leadership needs insurance as well and it’s likely you haven’t examined what that means. This type of insurance should cover what you do when everything goes into crisis around you, and what everyone else does when your life goes into crisis. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is my crisis management plan? It’s an often-overlooked aspect of one’s responsibilities. Everything will eventually go sideways on you, so you need to look at should be taken care of and how it will happen. Think of this as a fire drill for your responsibilities. The nature of a crisis is that you never know what it will involve, how many people it will affect, or when it will happen. Developing strategies ahead of time, however, can mitigate the effects of a crisis and allow you to focus on handling the details that are unforeseeable.
  2. Who have I developed as my replacement? Sometimes the thing that goes wrong occurs in your personal life, and trust that it can be strong enough to take you out of the game. If you are a controlling leader – or an extremely busy one – you might not have anyone who can properly replace you. You should explore how to develop other leaders for when your life turns upside down. Limit the affects of your absence by creating a system where others are empowered and capable of taking care of your responsibilities.

Cash & Credit Cards

In reality, I rarely ever carry cash because I have a tendency to “lose” it. Some people avoid credit cards to save themselves from burdensome debt. The bottom line is that each of these is a form of payment to carry out transactions with other people. In leadership, they represent transactions for your relationships. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How do I currently interact with people? Take an inventory of who you have regular interactions with; then think about your last several conversations with each person. This is not about judging whether you have positive or negative interactions on the aggregate, but whether you’re aware of how you interact. A consistent appraisal of this will keep you mindful when it’s most important: during the interactions.
  2. What types of communication do I utilize? Some merchants are cash only, while others, like online subscriptions, require a credit card on file. Every individual prefers their own form of communication, so leaders should invest in learning others’ preferences to adapt accordingly. If you find one form of communication is weaker, spend time to improve that area. Remember, the same message can be delivered hundreds of ways.
  3. How do I pay for other’s time and effort? Saying “thank you” is only one form of showing appreciation for others. Any form of gratitude is of course better than none, so start with the effort and then move to discernable adjustments. When it’s a part of your routine, you should vary your approach to illicit feedback on what works better for each person. Be open with people about what you’re doing, and you’ll find people will be much more receptive to your efforts.

Membership Cards

Perhaps you save money with your grocery store’s discount card, or you have a frequent buyer card for an ice cream shop. Personally, I keep my library card in my wallet at all times (nerd alert). As a leader, you should capitalize on these memberships that make you part of an exclusive group with access to certain benefits. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Where can I strengthen myself? By nature, we are a fairly social species, choosing by and large to live with and near others. Take advantage of this through those around you, whether it’s in your same industry or in some other way. A self-assessment of your strengths and weaknesses will guide you on where to look, such as networking meetups, mentorship opportunities, industry-specific conferences, and special interest groups. Check out Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach’s The Knowledge Illusion to learn more about the community of knowledge we all live in and benefit from.
  2. How can I uniquely participate in my community? While standard membership cards are usually offered by large organizations, leaders should look at how they can form their own membership club, so to speak. See where you can give back to others in areas where you are exceptionally knowledgeable. You can determine useful ways to give back by asking for suggestions or simply thinking about what you would have benefited from when you were a rising star.

Extra Junk

Depending on the inclination to keep random things and the physical space available, the size of your wallet can get absurdly large. Unfortunately, in your leadership wallet, physical space translates to mental space. Like a real wallet, you have to sort through the extra items to determine what should be kept and what can be discarded. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Why am I holding onto these specific things? Write down everything you do in a given day and journal about your thoughts. This isn’t diary work here; it’s more about jotting down notes intermittently throughout your day to keep track of where you spend your time and energy, both physically and mentally. With a few days, or better yet, a full week written out, you’re ready to analyze individual items that exhaust your resources. By determining why it’s part of your life, you’ll be more open to assessing the need for a relationship with it, and improving your productivity.
  2. Who is weighing me down? I’m sure you’ve heard that you’re a combination of those you surround yourself with, typically the closest 5 people. Who you spend your time with is as important as what you spend it doing. Leaders try to ensure they aren’t the smartest person in the room, so check and double check who isn’t make you a sharper, more curious leader. Your goals should not take a backseat to relationships simply because the relationship has been around longer.
  3. What should be in my wallet that isn’t? Cleaning out your wallet isn’t always about removing items. You have to look at what’s missing by categorically determining what you need separately from just what you see. There’s no right answer to this question, however going through each of the assessments discussed throughout this article should give way to some strategic and creative thinking about how you can better serve your leadership. Maybe your leadership would be better served by being able to speak Spanish, or perhaps you’ve found that there’s a real need for better interviewing skills. The possibilities are all yours.

 

Time to get to work. Go organize and clean up your leadership wallet.

SHARE
Philip Clark
Philip Clark is a former business consultant who currently writes about where leadership meets psychology. On occasion he mixes in education and social impact, aiming to improve the world one person at a time. Earning his degree in Psychology and an MBA from the College of William & Mary, he offers insight into looking past a standard checklist life by digging into what makes you tick and then improving it.