How Great Leaders Are Able To Detach


Recently a close family member of ours had a big health scare.

As part of the diagnosis, he had to undergo a series of tests and examinations. Although the healthcare team were fantastic and worked as speedily as possible, there was still a several week period where we had to wait nervously for results.

Try what I may, throughout this period I simply couldn’t think of anything else.

Whilst at work, home and even socialising it was the one thing on my mind and totally overtook everything I did or talked about.

My reasoning clearly knew that worrying about it wasn’t going to help. In fact it would have been much more beneficial to focus on another activity that was more productive.

But practically, the emotional attachment was too large. Even after a couple hours of pre-planned distraction, my mind would slowly start drifting back to worrying and fear.

What eventually helped me gather some perspective was accidentally running into an ex-neighbour of mind. She’s the UK sales manager for one of the largest telco providers in the world. Whilst catching up and discussing our issues over a coffee I was astounded to find out that she’d developed a rare and incurable degenerative brain condition. Her body was literally shutting down slowly each day. Yet she was still determined to experience as much of life as possible and not becoming totally focussed on the tragic reality that faced her each day.

Her advice was both priceless and inspirational. And it got me thinking. How in the face of adversity, stress and tragedy the difficult ability to detach from unwelcome emotions and convert them to something more positive can be so powerful.

Especially when it involves leading others and influencing them to feel better.

Here are some ways how great leaders are able to detach.

They share

A problem shared is definitely more than a problem halved.

Often the biggest obstacles to detaching from a situation or circumstance is that it’s bottled up entirely in our own heads.

With nowhere to express ourselves, we go over and over the same issues in our mind trying to predict every possible outcome or possible course of action. And during this high pressure process, sometimes fear can take over. We start fearing the worst. We might be too afraid to express something just in case we tempt it to happen. We might even feel that we’re not supposed to talk about our negative emotions in case we repel others or come across as too weak or negative.

But great leaders realise that often the opposite is true.

Sharing our feelings with others can actually make us feel lighter. It might even entrust the unexpected help and advice of others. Allowing us to start thinking about other things and start taking positive steps forward.

Meaning that ironically, talking about our feelings more can actually often help reduce them. By getting things out in the open.

Great leaders get things out in the open.

They get busy

Ever been so busy with something that time has just flown by?

Got so involved in a particular task or activity that you completely forgot about everything else? Where it seemed like you were in “the zone”?

As amazing and intricate as our minds are, the one limitation that all of us have is that its difficult to concentrate fully on more than one thing at a time. Especially if the particular task is intricate or complicated. It forces our brains to work harder and channel its energy and focus to the matter in hand.

On of the best hiring managers I have ever worked with, often used to mention to me that one of the key factors to building a high performing team was to keep individuals so busy that they would have little time for anything else. Too busy to get bored. Too busy to make excuses. Even too busy to get stressed.

The key thing to remember though was to make sure that although they were busy, it was essential to make sure that they were also having fun. As far as he was concerned, the key to leadership was to find out what each of his team members truly enjoyed doing (its different for everyone) and then to fulfil his duty as a good leader and make sure he provided them with the right type of work to make them feel engaged.

Great leaders understand that no amount of willpower or positive thinking can fully overcome an empowering negative emotion. Our brains don’t respond as well to reasoning as they do to actions.

By taking action and getting busy we force our minds to change their direction of thinking and start moving forward.

Great leaders keep moving.

They help others

When things go badly, often it can be hard to take.

Things can easily get overwhelming.

It’s easy to get stressed or anxious. Fear can easily settle in. In severe cases it can even cause us to become depressed or lead to a full mental breakdown.

Whatever the reasons for feeling down or depressed may be, they can vary from person to person and situation to situation. But what can make recovery difficult – sometimes impossible – is trying to accept that what has happened is something we can do nothing about and having to helplessly accept.

That our personal experiences and hardships are losses we must accept in a negative way.

This is where the greatest leaders stand out from everyone else.

The greatest leaders and most inspirational people throughout history, are those who have realised that the best way to detach from a negative state of mind is to start using the experience to help others in a positive way.

It’s why we hear of terminally ill patients who use their remaining days to help raise money to help the chances of others. Or why people who experience personal tragedy raise awareness to help preventing it happening again. Or why ex-drug users start volunteering to support others in their recovery and rehab process.

Losing one-self in useful service to others is the only way that we can detach from a negative experience or emotion forever. Although staying busy and sharing with others can help in the medium term, great leaders understand that converting negative experiences into positive service to help others is the only way to find long term contentment.

Great leaders find contentment.


We are all ruled by our emotions.

Hence being able to control the negative emotions – and sometimes detach from them entirely – is essential in trying to live the life we all want.

Great leaders understand that being able to detach from negative emotions requires awareness, practice and discipline but ultimately the rewards are well worth it.

Do you know how to detach?

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