7 Steps to Upping Your Leadership Game
While many organizations boast of multiple managers, not as many can say they have people who excel at leadership. Why is it so hard to be a good leader? Most people aren’t trained – even in the best schools, a business degree has many technical aspects, but there’s not a lot on the “soft skills” which are the essence of good leadership. If you believe your leadership approach needs a refresher, consider these 7 Steps to upping your leadership game:
- Balance humility with ego. It’s important for leaders to be confident and show that they know what they are doing and excite their people with their confidence. However, the best leaders balance ego with a healthy dose of humility: They self-reflect, they take corrective feedback even from those who are levels below them, and they seek ways to grow and change.
- Mentor, but not just “do as I do”. Successful people got where they are because they did many things right and have a certain set of talents and style. Unfortunately, when leading, it’s not realistic to expect everyone else around you to do it the same way you did it. Strong leaders recognize style differences – just because you are an assertive and results-oriented person doesn’t mean the person working for you with a calmer, more thoughtful style can’t be just as effective in their own way. Being able to mentor, and to shift style while doing it, is the mark of a talented leader. It takes effort and focus and it’s a lot more work, but the payoff is much greater.
- Listening is as important as giving guidance. The adage “seek to understand before you seek to be understood,” which Stephen Covey eloquently shared, fits here. Leaders should want to teach, guide, and train their constituents, but the best leaders listen and learn first, then guide second. Listening takes patience and strength, so a leader can’t be running so quickly that they miss out on the important nuggets they can glean by listening.
- The best ideas may not be yours. Leaders need to have the vision and the ideas about how to accomplish the vision. The team looks to the leader for encouragement and enthusiasm, but the leader doesn’t have to know it all. A good leader can paint a picture of where the team can go, and then let others in the team create pathways and avenues to be able to get there. A good leader stays open and recognizes that his or her gift can be in leveraging the ideas of others, not in giving away all of the answers all of the time.
- People want to be led. While good leaders should listen, take others’ ideas into account, and be interested in hearing what their team has to say, the truth is that most employees want a strong leader they can be excited about following. Communicating a clear and effective vision, showing the team where they fit in the overall picture, and helping them to be the best they can be in order to contribute are among the most important and fulfilling aspects of leadership.
- Trust is earned. While in the past the common wisdom said the person in authority is right and in charge, but the times they are a-changin’. Now, trust is developed over time, and employees are skeptical of those in charge until they can see the leader has their best interests at heart. Recognize that they might not trust you, or want to follow you until you give them a reason to do so. Do what you say you will, and communicate when you make a mistake. Put a priority on earning trust over time.
- Give credit to the team. Strong leaders don’t need to hog the limelight. They don’t need to be the ones taking the accolades all of the time. In fact, a good leader wants their team to succeed and wants others to get credit for their great ideas and accomplishments. Know that when your team does well, you do too, and enjoy the glow that comes from celebrating the work of others.
Being a consistently strong leader takes time, energy and focus. Be willing to invest all three to be the best leader you can possibly be.
NBA Player Carl Landry Demonstrates the Value of Persistence in Life and Work
Written by: Jon Sabes
When you meet Carl Landry, stand-out college basketball player and nine-year NBA player, you imagine that becoming a professional basketball star was a straight forward run for the 6-foot-nine-inch power forward.
However, when you go deeper into Carl’s background, becoming a NBA professional was less than certain and little came easily to the 33-year-old from Milwaukee:
- He was cut from his high school team as a freshman and averaged less than ten points a game when he did play as a senior.
- He started his college career not at Purdue, but a junior college where it was not clear he would play.
- When he finally got to Purdue, he tore his ACL in his knee his first year and reinjured it the next year.
- While his family held a party for him the night of the NBA draft, he slept in the Philadelphia airport after missing a flight following a workout for the 76ers.
- In the NBA playoffs, Carl had a tooth knocked out, but came back in the same game to make a game-winning blocked shot as the Rockets beat the Utah Jazz 94-92.
Landry, who I interviewed on my podcast, Innovating Life with Jon Sabes (www.jonsabes.com), is a remarkable example of the value of “persistence.” In a time where technology creates the image that anything is possible at the touch of a button, persistence is an under-appreciated trait. When I spoke with Carl, I clearly saw someone for whom success has only come through a force of will that made him a NBA player, but it also made him a better player every year he played. That’s the kind of personality that has produced greatness in business as well as sports.
Carl was, in fact, drafted that night he spent in the airport. The Seattle Supersonics chose him as the 31st overall pick and then traded him to the Houston Rockets where he rode the bench for much of the first half of the season. When All-Star teammate Yao Ming was injured, he stepped in and played a key role in the Rockets astonishing 22-game winning streak (the third longest streak in NBA history). And, that season, after sitting on the bench for 33 of the first 36 games, he was named to the All-Rookie second team.
Carl was the first in his family to go to college. “I told myself that this was my ticket out, so I did everything I possibly could to be the best person in school and also on the court,” he said.
His family life in Milwaukee showed him what he didn’t want to do. “Just being honest with you, seeing some my cousins, peers, they went to work for jobs paying six, seven dollars an hour or they didn’t go to work at all and then living off welfare. I didn’t want that.”
When he was first injured, he had to contemplate the end of a career before it even got started. “When you have an ACL tear, it’s over…no more basketball,” he told me. “I said, God, give me health again and I’ll do everything I can to leave it all out on the line and be a successful individual.”
On my podcast, Carl pointed out another interesting lesson he learned in the NBA: Not doing things just to fit in.
“Fitting in was easy,” he said. “Doing everything that everybody else does was easy. If I stood out in some type of way, I’m going to have different results. I’m going to have stand-out results.”
That’s called the “Law of Contrast” and it produces that exact effect of changing the outcomes that everyone else is experiencing. Carl is smart, he recognized that differences make a difference, and doing whatever it takes is what is required to make real, meaningful differences.
Every off-season for the last 11 years, he has run a camp for kids in Milwaukee where he tells youth his story of hard work and persistence. “I always tell the kids to apply themselves and always be persistent,” he said. “If you dream, apply yourself and be persistent. With hard work, man, the sky’s the limit.”
When Carl says the sky’s the limit he means it. He is smart to recognize that it’s important to dream big, because if we don’t – we may be selling ourselves short. “You have to dream bigger than your mind could ever imagine,” he said. “I wanted a nice house. I wanted a nice car. I said, and I got all of that. So, what do I do, do I stop now? Maybe I didn’t dream big enough.” That’s a big statement coming from a kid who grew up to be the first in his family to graduate college and go on to be not only a top NBA basketball start, but a good businessman, father and someone who gives back to the community.
I’m convinced that in whatever he takes on as a basketball player or in his post-hoops career, Carl Landry is not going to stop getting better at whatever he does, and in the process of doing so, make the world a better place.
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