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.
Why People Believe What You Tell Them
At some point in our lives, we’ve all been told “you won’t be able to achieve…” something by a teacher, boss or even a parent. For many, this type of discouraging mentoring propels them to do just that thing. However, for other this can prevent the very learning, practice and dedication needed to achieve whatever that “something” is.
Remember this rule; your team will believe you.
It’s entirely possible that some of your team are driven by the idea of achieving that unattainable goal or proving you wrong. The risk of using this strategy is too great. I was once told by a hiring manager that they “couldn’t see me managing people”. If I had even the slightest hesitation, based on that comment, my career would have stalled. I fought the subconscious effect of this comment and pushed through it. I was aware that this comment could subconsciously hold me back. It’s not safe to assume those on your team can do the same. When my manager attempted to give me “advice”, their intention might have been good. I don’t honestly know. It’s possible that this manager didn’t see the qualities they thought a good manager had. It’s possible they also didn’t see the ability to improve my skills either. Regardless of the intention, this advice could have stopped my pursuit towards a leadership role right there. At the time, I had just read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink and was introduced to the idea of priming.
Priming refers to subtle triggers that influence our behavior without our awareness of it happening.
An example that Gladwell uses is in Spain, where authorities introduced classical music on the subway and after doing so, watched vandalism and littering drastically decrease. I was determined not to let priming effect my behavior. I would in fact begin to do the exact opposite of what priming does. I would change my behavior to act more like a leader. I slowly began to change the way I dressed, moving towards more professional choices at work. I began reading leadership books, blogs and listening to podcasts.
Always assume you are priming your team members.
No matter what your thoughts are on a team member’s future career aspirations or goals, don’t shoot them down. As leaders, simply decide that every team member should be given the benefit of the doubt. That way you won’t negatively prime them. For example, that team member that applies for the open management position. Who does it benefit if you tell them they “aren’t management material”. Maybe you, the next time a role opens, won’t have to deal with the discussion again. Does it truly benefit you? The demotivation, the priming has taken place. Why would that team member attempt to work harder, learn more or stick around?
Priming doesn’t only happen with major life changing or career changing situations.
Priming can also happen when a team member presents a new idea or concept. If a team member comes to you with a horrible idea and you immediately respond with “that won’t work”, you’ve primed them. Some people are more resilient than others, some believe they are more resilient than they are. Regardless, it’s not about your opinion on the idea, if it truly won’t work then it won’t work. The objective is to change how you respond to avoid negative priming. The over used term, “it’s not what you say it’s how you say it” is accurate. Instead of saying it “won’t work” ask for more details, or explain the history or approach you’ve tried before. Avoid jumping to the conclusion or verbalizing it. “I’d love to see you in a management role in the future, we’ll build a plan and I’ll help you get there” for the management material example. For that “off the wall” idea that won’t work, “here’s what I’ve tried before, do you think your approach would have a different result”? Have a conversation, after all…..
“People will forget what you said. They will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
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