Don’t worry, this is not turning into a podcast about weight loss! However, there is a lot to learn about facing a seemingly impossible task and being successful in completing it. Whether it be losing 93 pounds, or taking on an intimidating initiative.
From knowing what and how to make changes, to researching and learning a new skill, and recruiting the right people to help you reach your goals, making a plan is the best way (arguably the only way) to be successful in a difficult task.
Sticking to this plan is another challenge, so adding fail safes and people to keep you in check is just as important, as well as allowing room for failure.
This strategy can be used for any difficult, yet great, initiative, that you know, once complete, it will make all the difference for you and everyone around you.
Tune in to hear how Sarah used the lessons she learned in her weight loss journey in her kind leadership journey!
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Those of you who have watched my video clips on social media since the beginning of the Kind Leadership Challenge may have noticed a bit of a change in my appearance over the last 10 months. It’s not your eyes playing tricks on you, I’ve lost a fair bit of weight since I launched the podcast. 93 pounds from my highest weight as of today to be exact, through the old fashioned combination of diet, exercise, and having 80% of my stomach surgically removed. Now don’t freak out and hit skip. This is not going to suddenly turn into a weight loss podcast, partly because I’m unqualified and mostly because that’s just not my thing. But I have learned a lot about making big changes over the past year or so of this journey, and I realized a lot of those lessons apply to any kind leader who’s taking on an intimidating project.
Welcome to the Kind Leadership Challenge! I’m Sarah Clark, founder of the Kind Leadership Guild.
My PhD in higher ed Leadership, my experience advising educational and library leaders all over the world, and a career working in academic libraries from the front desk to the Dean’s office taught me how any leader in any situation can transform their organization so they can make their communities more educated and informed places to live, work, and thrive.
Kind Leaders know how to make the tough decisions without becoming jerks. We grow our organizations’ impact without burning anyone out. And we’ve learned that when we stop controlling and start collaborating, the impossible becomes effortless. It all sounds pretty simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s not hard. So stick around for the next 10 minutes, as I challenge you to part with perfection so you can build a better world.
First up, if you’re not sure whether or not it’s the right moment to take on a big new initiative, and especially if you’re an overthinker, just set aside your research and listen to your gut.
I spent most of my adult life weighing somewhere between 60 and 100 pounds more than was healthy for me. I did the standard thing of getting fed up with not feeling good, going on a diet, losing about half of what I wanted to drop, stalling, getting burnt out with the diet, finding the car driving itself to the nearest fast food establishment for a bacon double whatever, gradually regaining over the next year or so, repeat. The last time this cycle repeated itself was during the first months of the pandemic, at which time I was reminded of Einstein’s alleged quote that Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
However, knowing you need to take a different approach to a health problem—or a leadership problem—is a different matter than actually knowing when and how to change. For the first half of 2021 I collected data on weight loss surgery, talked to friends who’d done it, and ingested everything from medical journal articles to weight loss vlogs on youtube. But I still hesitated, until I went in for a doctor’s appointment in the summer of 2021, stepped on a scale, and was the heaviest I have ever been in my life. And like that, I knew. Whatever switch needed to flip in my gut finally did. I was done. There were specialists and tests and insurance approvals to work out, but from that moment on I knew what needed to be done and that I was ready to do it. And frankly, most of the major decisions I’ve made in my career as a leader have been very similar.
Next up—find smart advisors. Getting my gut on board with the project was necessary, but it wasn’t sufficient. I knew from my research and my lived experience that weight loss surgery was probably my best shot of losing the weight I needed to lose for health reasons and keeping it off. But I also knew that a small but notable minority of people who have weight loss surgery do regain a substantial portion of their weight. I was NOT going to end up in that camp. So I found the best surgeon I could find—and I admit I was helped on that front by living 20 minutes from one of the leading medical centers in the country, which happens to have one of the leading weight loss surgery clinics on the planet. They tested me up one side and down the other, and helped me keep my goals realistic. I also found some excellent resources on nutrition to supplement the support I was getting from the clinic’s nutritionist, and most importantly, I found a therapist who was qualified in weight loss issues, and have been meeting with her throughout this journey. Much like most issues in my leadership life, at that point I knew a lot about what to do and not to do to make this project a success. And much like my most successful leadership projects, The advisors were there to keep me overthinking and perfectionism from sending me off the rails.
So, you’ve figured out it’s time to take on the scary project, and you’ve got people who have the brains to advise you as well as the emotional distance to keep you from running off the edge of a cliff. So it’s time for lesson 3-- make a plan. For my project, I knew that first I needed to have a strategy to keep my diet clean-but-sustainable. Weight loss surgery means you have to be more mindful of your protein intake, hydration, and there are a lot of foods you physically can’t eat, for at least the first few months while your digestive system heals. So I started putting all my own research and my trusted advisors to work and figured out how I would approach food, and stocked up on things like chicken stock and yogurt for my first few weeks on soft food. On the fitness front, I knew from similar trial and error that once I recovered from surgery and was cleared to exercise I would do best with a workout routine that could fit easily into my life. Enter Peloton, which I’ve discussed in passing on a few other episodes, and I purchased as a 3 month Surgiversary present to myself. Finally, my worrying and overly self-critical nature was a big factor in most of my past diet struggles. I didn’t just want to get physically healthier, I knew I needed to get mentally healthier. So I made and started executing plans there as well, again in concert with my therapist.
The fourth lesson I learned from the process of losing 93 pounds was the power of routines. My first routines started after surgery, when I had to take a little shot glass of water every 15 minutes whenever I was awake, so I could stay hydrated even with my smaller post-op tummy. When I was cleared to “eat”, I really could only have chicken stock, jello, and after a week or so thicker stuff like yogurt and hummus. As I recovered at home I set lots of timers to eat, drink, and move around. Once I was cleared to start exercising, I started with walks around the parking lot and the neighborhood, and then shifted to the Peloton once it arrived, And to keep my mind engaged I planned and recorded the first few episodes of this podcast. And to keep my fingers busy I knitted. A LOT. You see that quilt on the bed behind me? I knitted that puppy over the first 6 months or so after surgery. It’s soft, functional, and helped me stay away from the potato chips. As I close in on the 1 year mark, most days I have more or less the same meals, do more or less the same amount of exercise and steps, and have my routines dialed in. When things become routine, you don’t have to think nearly as much.
All that said, the fifth leadership lesson I picked up on this weight loss journey was to give yourself grace. This one’s still a journey for me, but I am slowly accepting that not only do I not need to be perfect at everything to succeed on this journey, I shouldn’t strive for perfection if I want to attain my goal of a healthy, sustainable weight for the long haul. For example, My husband and I had a weekend getaway in New York City. Bumbling around the upper east side we discovered an awesome hole in the wall deli for lunch, and you better bet I had their famous pastrami sandwich. Well, about a third of it anyway. More seriously, a few weeks ago I experienced my first real plateau since surgery, within only a few pounds of my goal weight. My stalls were always where I failed before, so I was kind of a mess. But I followed all 5 steps. My gut told me to ask for help, so I reached out to advisors. After venting to them for a bit, I decided to make a plan to shift to maintenance for a bit. If my body wanted to take a break from losing weight, why not? That said, I kept tracking and my other routines to make sure that the break didn’t turn into regaining weight. And you know what? That little bit of grace was what I needed. I’m less hungry, more engaged, and practicing the skills I’ll need to keep off this weight for the long haul. And the same is true for any project like this.
So here’s my challenge for this week—what big project are you thinking of taking on? Where are you on those 5 leadership lessons of listening to your gut, finding advisors, making a plan, creating routines, and giving yourself grace? And what steps can you take to move forward? Let us know in the kind leadership challenge community or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll help you stay accountable.
Thanks for listening and for taking action to become a kinder leader. If you found this week’s episode insightful, give the show a rating or review—or even better, share this episode with your fellow leaders! Never doubt that day by day, you’re building a better world, even if you can't see it yet. So until next time, stay kind now.