Happier Leader Jumpstart – Part 2: Living with “Default-itis”

Not too long ago, my daughter had her appendix taken out. She had appendicitis. It started with a low-grade pain and some discomfort; she just thought “what's going on here” and figured it was fine...

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Not too long ago, my daughter had her appendix taken out. She had appendicitis. It started with a low-grade pain and some discomfort; she just thought “what’s going on here” and figured it was fine. It got worse and became hard to sleep. She went in and they said, “Well, you have acute appendicitis” which literally means an inflammation of the appendix.

Her appendix swelled, caused discomfort, and then perforated (luckily it didn’t rupture); it just ripped open a little and stuff was coming out. When that happened, her whole body reacted by trying to build a wall around that stuff so it wouldn’t impact the rest of her body.

When they discovered that’s what it was, she had surgery, they went in, they had to get through all of that muck and mire to take it out. Everything went fine (although mom was a bit nervous) and now she’s on the road to recovery.

When I think about inflammation, I also think about arthritis. I have a bit of arthritis, just like a lot of people my age, which basically means inflammation of the joints. Arthro is Greek for joints, so arthritis is joint inflammation.

And we can all have different kinds of itises, right? All kinds of different inflammation. For example, you can have bursitis, which is an inflammation of the bursa sac. 

As I think about the pain, discomfort, lack of sleep, irritability and unhappiness, I realize these are the same symptoms some of us have in our life and leadership. And I think a lot of this comes because our life is not aligned with who we really are; our core identity. That misalignment, like what occurs in our back, is what is behind those symptoms.

This misalignment is largely due to making decisions by default; we just do things the way they have always been done; or the way they “should” be done; or according to what others expect of us. 

And so, we lead by default. We form our teams, create our organizations, delegate our work, decide who’s going to do what, figure out our marketing, our customer service, our financial approach, or our organizational structure by default. A lot of that we just do by default. And when those things accumulate and they are misaligned from our core identity, the discomfort and ultimately pain sets in.

Think of each one of your decisions, each one of your leadership elements, each one of your organizational pieces as vertebrae. And as those little bits are misaligned from the spine, from what should be, from what you know is the right way to do things, it starts to cause inflammation just like in our natural backbone.

If things are out of whack a little bit, they’re out of alignment, it causes pain, it causes inflammation, it causes discomfort, we start losing sleep, and we start getting stressed.

Misalignment causes issues. And what I’ve noticed in a lot of our leadership research, a lot of my own leadership journey, a lot of talking to other people, is that when we make too many decisions and we do things by default, rather than being intentional about the way that we know they should be, or that the way that we really want them to be, and when there is a disjoint between them, it causes inflammation.

It’s something that I call ‘default-itis’. It’s an inflammation of the defaults.

And we don’t notice it right away when we first make decisions in our life, in our relationships, and in our business. But over time, just like my daughter’s appendix, that swells and swells, and we start getting a little bit uncomfortable in our leadership, and it starts applying pressure to our joy and our happiness and those things start to dwindle.

It’s like the frog in the kettle, it’s just little by little, until one day it sort of ruptures. And then we start to have these reactions. Our body starts to react in a way to try to wall that off, to try to protect itself, to try to preserve, and make sure that we’re going to be okay. And what happens is that chronic pain becomes acute pain.

Those small default decisions that we made over the years have accumulated to the point where now it is actually causing some sort of acute pain. And that is what I called ‘default-itis’ that is now ruptured in a sort of breaking of our will, and it is hurting us as leaders. And so, the cure luckily for default-itis, is intentionality.

Now we can’t necessarily reverse everything right away, but over time we can do that. Just like taking out the appendix. Just like maybe losing some weight or drinking more water, or taking a certain medicine might help us with our bursitis or our arthritis or the other itises that we have in our life.

We can reverse this, but it takes intentionality. It takes a diagnosis; it takes a prescription and then it takes intentionality. We can start to identify areas of our leadership where we have done things by default. Even if you know, you should do it a different way. Even if it goes against your desires and where your vision of leadership is, or your vision of the organization, or the team is. What you want to do with the product, how you want to go to market, you start to accumulate these little default decisions rather than intentionality and it builds up in you.

And so that’s one thing that I want to point out to you. We need to start being intentional as leaders. Not only for the good of the organization but for the good of our own leadership, health and happiness.

So that’s my encouragement today. Think about what are those things in your life, your relationships, in your leadership, and your organization that you just sort of done by default because it’s the easiest thing to do, always been done that way, less risky and it’ll cause less backlash.

What are those things that you’ve done by default? Start exchanging that with some intentional decision-making.

So that’s my challenge to you!

Feel free to hit me up and let me know. Whether you’re seeing this on social media, put the comments out there. Feel free to shoot me an email and go to stevefredlund.com. Find my information there, but let me know what you’ve identified as the areas of default in your life and where you think you can be more intentional.

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Steve Fredlund is available to speak at your event; he also does workshops and coaching to help you and your team become happier leaders. 

Please go to SteveFredlund.com to find out more, including a link to set up an exploratory call with Steve.

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