Written by: Brendan Barker
The journey to becoming a great leader takes time and effort, but that effort will be rewarded in your reputation as a leader of people and, by extension, your value.
Once your journey to that Utopian ideal has begun it behooves you to maintain the momentum. Should you find yourself resting in your comfort zone, secure in the knowledge and skills you have developed thus far, then snap yourself out of it. Reward yourself for what you have achieved and remind yourself there is a long way to go.
The late chairman of the Ohio Republican party wrote “It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.” You’ve probably made some mistakes on your journey so far, but you’ve probably had several successes as well. If you’re managing to learn from your mistakes you should be marking them as equally as your achievements.
So, here are 4 more skills for you to master as you continue your journey to great leadership.
1. Improve your inner management
Organisational Psychologist Dr Tasha Eurich identified through her studies approximately 95% of people think they are self-aware but the actual number of people who are genuinely self-aware is closer to 10-15%. That doesn’t mean you can’t build your self-awareness; it just takes a little practice.
Develop the habit of reflecting for five or ten minutes at the end of each day. Keep a journal if you like where you can jot down some notes and ideas. Ask yourself at the end of each day what you think you did well, what you think you didn’t do so well and what you think you could do differently. Importantly, try to make sure you don’t get hung up on any of the mistakes you may have made. You are going to make mistakes; the important thing is that you learn to acknowledge them and learn from them. It’s when we start to make excuses for our mistakes that we stop growing.
The other critical aspect of developing self-awareness is to constantly seek feedback from others – your managers, your peers and your direct reports. We can assume we know how others see us, but it is only through asking them that we can truly understand. Be mindful in receiving the feedback you seek. People will only give us truly honest, helpful feedback when they trust we will be open to receiving it.
The art of receiving feedback free of ego is a difficult one to master but it isn’t impossible. Try to separate the feedback from your own self-perception. When we compare our self-perception to the perceptions others have of us, we tend more towards emotionally driven responses.
2. Learn how to have the tough conversations with respect
I’ve met many people who tell me they have no issues having the tough conversations with others. This outward sense of bravado aside, in my experience these people tend to charge into these conversations as though they are the captain of the army, hell bent on attacking and destroying the opposing force’s battlements. In other, perhaps less dramatic words, they become an apparent bully. Whether this behavior masks an inward turbulence driven by an ultimate fear of conflict I am not sure, but what I do know is the behavior of these leaders often reflects a sense of complete disrespect towards the other person.
If you are one of those people for whom the thought of tough conversations raises anxiety levels, that may not be such a bad thing. That uneasy feeling you get when you think about these conversations essentially reflects an underlying desire to not hurt the people around us and this drives our sense of compassion towards others.
Harness that anxiety and use it to drive your compassionate heart. This is called radical candour, the notion that you can have the difficult conversation with someone precisely because you care about them, not despite it.
3. Tell your story – develop authentic leadership skills
Learning how to be an authentic leader can be tricky. Much of the leadership skills we develop comes from the observance of role models, but the habits of these role models can be woefully inadequate sometimes.
Authentic leadership is about building genuine connections with the people around you. It’s about telling your story. This is the ‘what makes you uniquely you?’ part of leadership. This about the challenges you have faced in your life, who were your role models? What mistakes did you make and how did all that guide you and build the person you have become?
Every leader is different, there is no mold for make one truly perfect leader so think about the authentic you and make sure you bring it to your new role.
4. Become an inclusive leader
An inclusive leader is a leader who celebrates the diversity of life and the offerings such radical difference can bring to the team and the organisation.
Try the following exercise. Write down a list of the top ten most trusted people in your life but exclude family members. Then next to each person’s name, record their gender, race, age, sexual orientation, disability, education and marital status.
When you look at the list of your top ten most trusted people you may find you are all startlingly similar. Don’t feel bad about this, it’s one of the unconscious biases to which we are all susceptible. But it’s also a dangerous bias in that it limits diversity. Who are the people you seek out when you need advice, when you need to discuss an important issue or get someone else’s point of view? We generally go to the people we trust, but the people we trust are usually the ones who think very much the same way we do.
If you genuinely want to be an inclusive leader you need to seek out perspectives that are radically different to yours and celebrate this fact. This can be confronting at times, but the benefits far outweigh whatever discomfort you may experience.
In the end, it’s your commitment to developing yourself that really counts.
On November 22nd, 1963, the late US President John F. Kennedy was preparing to give a speech to the Dallas Trade Mart in Dallas, Texas, a speech he would unfortunately never deliver. In that speech he remarked
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
I couldn’t agree more. The path of leadership has many twists and turns and there are side roads, crossroads and detours at multiple points. How you navigate that path is entirely up to you. The two really important factors here are
1) the knowledge and skills you gain as you proceed along your chosen path and
2) what you choose to do with that knowledge and those skills.
Use those skills to lift others up and you will truly be a great leader.
Read the first part of this blog series to find out the first 4 skills to master while beginning your journey to great leadership.