I’ve had the pleasure of annually backpacking with a group of men. This year we hiked to the top of Mt. Whitney, the highest peak (14,500 ft.) of the lower 48 states. It was tiring, challenging and exciting to make it to the top. My goal was reached.

Russ Elliot hiking Mt Whitney, September 2019

As part of my own development and for the benefit of my executive coaching clients, I regularly read, and sometimes re-read books that will further my coaching skills and my client’s success. Before the hike, I read Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and re-read Drive by Daniel Pink. During the hike I had a chance to reflect on the flow and drive in my personal and professional life.

What is Drive?

Daniel Pink lays out three essential elements:

  1.  Autonomy is the desire to direct our own lives. Most of us know through our own experience that when we have an influence on how the work will get done, we are more likely to be engaged in that task or project. I had complete autonomy on my hiking training plan and the pace of my hike. As a leader, ensure you are allowing your staff to be autonomous in their decision-making tasks while also staying in the loop through regular progress checkpoints.
  2. Mastery is the urge to make progress and get better at something that matters. Backpack weight matters a lot; it makes the difference between an enjoyable and painful hike. I am highly motivated to master the decisions on what to include in my backpack so that I only carry what I need. As a leader, it is an important inquiry into what you and your staff want to master. It is a journey that never ends with many repeat learning cycles of learning.
  3. Purpose is the yearning to do what we do to serve something larger than ourselves. For my hiking trip, the larger purpose was to be in shape. The hike was secondary to my goal of being fit in my late 50’s. Leaders need to create environments where the staff are yearning for something bigger than themselves. Hopefully, the company’s vision statement is aspirational and drives the organization toward that purpose.

Are you a conscious leader who creates an engaging environment where the staff have the right level of autonomy, an abundant desire for mastery and are guided by a purpose larger than themselves?

What Does Flow Have To Do with Leadership?

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.

The key to flow is the ability to find rewards in the events of each moment and to focus attention at will as long as it takes to achieve that goal, and not longer. It requires letting go of distractions like pain, fear, rage, anxiety, or jealousy. The flow experience occurs during situations in which there is no disorder to straighten out, rather attention can be freely invested to achieve goals set by the person.

It took me 7 hours to hike down 11 miles of Mt. Whitney. My buddies were faster than me which gave me time by myself. More often than not, I was so involved in the experience of being in the mountain, I felt flow most of the time. Nothing else seemed to matter. My mind was fully relaxed into the flow of moving and being in the mountain.

Company cultures can evolve to make everyday tasks feel like flow. Think about the last time you were in flow, in and out of work. Next time you have a chance to see the kitchen at a restaurant, notice if the kitchen staff are in a flow.

I have seen it often. There is clear responsibility with a desire to master their craft for the larger purpose of the team coming together for the customer in conditions that are not ideal. Leaders, in partnership with staff, must create as much opportunity as possible for flow at work.

As a leader, are you doing enough to put in the elements of drive and flow into work? This is one topic that comes up with my executive coaching clients who desire for that experience with themselves and for their staff.

Are you a backpacker who experienced drive and flow?

If these topics interest you, please reach out to me at [email protected]. It’s a leadership conversation I would love to have.

Conscious Culture Group® works with leaders to help them become more effective conscious leaders through executive coaching.