LEADERSHIP IS…BEING AWARE OF THE PITFALLS

Posted Oct 10, 2018 2:01:06 PM

As a leader, your focus will most likely be on tasks and outcomes different to those in your previous role. While it’s tempting to fall into the comfort blanket of doing things you’re great at (and probably helped you get your new position), the truth is you’ll have new challenges and responsibilities. This means a shift in focus and it may push you out of your comfort zone for a while.

Clarity

Has there ever been an article written or a presentation delivered on Leadership (or indeed on Management for that matter) that does not mention ‘Communication’? And yet, it remains the number one area for improvement for nearly every company.

This is because too much focus is placed on how we deliver a message.  As long as you have been thoughtful about your audience, there is no one right way of sending out messages and signals. It is Speaking and Writing’s misunderstood and under-rated cousin ‘Listening’ that so often defines the quality of overall communication. In a leadership role, you need to be good at listening, to be successful. Statistically, humans are not, however, so it’s important to be self-aware and self-critical in this vital skill. None of us are as good at communicating as we think we are, and even those who are skilled communicators should not rest on their laurels, as improvements that facilitate significant company gains can always be found. Give your team time and attention; it will provide them with a sense of self-worth, which will transform their performance and, with it, yours. 

Pride before a fall

Where the opportunity and privilege to lead is mistaken for an excuse to assume an arrogance and a sense of self-importance, it is often because a manager has been promoted into a leadership position too soon.

You have justifiably been recognised for your attributes, but it is crucial to stay grounded. The best leaders are humble. It is all about the member of staff, about the team, about the department, about the company. It is not about you.

Leadership is a stimulating blend of providing guidance, inspiration and motivation to others. Furthermore, and contrary to very many assumptions, it is about shouldering responsibility, about working for others, to help them become the best versions of themselves they can be. It is not about being served by them because you’re the ‘Big Shot’ now.

Don’t expect yourself to be perfect and do expect to make mistakes, but have the humility to recognise them and take responsibility.  Your team will not perceive this as a failure, but as an excellent example of how to develop and grow without fear.

Your most important asset is your people and building positive workplace relationships is vital for career success. A highly engaged workplace is a successful workplace that is being led well.

But be self-assured

A common early challenge in a leadership role, and one that can quickly spiral into a very significant hindrance to performance and further development, is a lack of confidence. It is rapidly picked up on by colleagues and your team members and will begin to undermine you disturbingly rapidly. Often revealing itself through a pattern of seeking too much control, this bad habit may descend into micro-management. Not only is this inefficient, but it becomes counter-productive when team members inevitably begin to feel overlooked, untrusted and, eventually, demotivated.

Authenticity

There are two aspects here: 

In order for leaders to inspire, an insight into their inner selves can be surprisingly powerful at the right moments. Let the team in occasionally. Let them know how you feel, what makes you tick. Confide in them sometimes.  Many leaders worry that this would make them appear too normal or to be a ‘mere mortal’. Of course, this is not a weakness; quite the opposite.

However, in our leaders we expect underlying strength. A leader that loses their emotional cool may become perceived as being unstable or unpredictable. If you have a tendency to be hot-headed, don’t fight your natural feelings, but do learn how to control them. A reliable and calm leadership style is likely to reap greater and more consistent rewards ultimately.

Control your priorities

Supporting your team is, naturally, a key part of being a great leader. It is equally important to keep on top of your own achievements. If your company does not provide strategically-driven objectives (and arguably even if it does) set yourself some relevant goals, at least quarterly, and sense-check every one of your decisions against them. Leadership is awash with reasons to lose sight of your own priorities. Don’t fall into this trap.

Part of this is the perennial ‘time management’ issue. Work out some processes that enable (or force) you to pro-actively manage and control your own time. 

Greater height requires more support

Who do you confide in?  Who do you look to for support and guidance?  Who challenges you?  And whilst you’re busy motivating and inspiring the workforce, who is keeping you buoyant and fresh? You’ll need a confidant, a coach, someone to challenge you, someone to guide and inspire you and someone who’ll help you see your strengths and successes – and I’m sure you could probably add to the list. Some of these attributes you may find in one person, some of them will be colleagues, an official mentor or coach, or a good friend or family member. Choose wisely and use them. A great mentor is not only someone who can support you and is willing to share their knowledge and expertise, but regularly reminds you of your abilities and shares similar values and wants you to succeed. They will give you the tough love to ensure that you are accountable to yourself.  Create your network and resist the urge to convince yourself that you are too experienced to need such support.

Plan to think

Building in ‘thinking’ time to your schedule is often overlooked and underrated, sometimes unheard of!  Yet it provides a source of ideas and perspective not always possible in the relentless day-to-day operation.

In a nutshell, you can’t do your best work while moving from one jam-packed day to the next.  It pays to make time to pause and reflect; to think about your and your company’s most important objectives and the direction of your business without needless distractions. 

Carving out thinking time is a priority if you want to be increasingly efficient, solve problems better, and improve how you work. Of course, as a busy executive you will feel that you do not have any available time to for luxuries like ‘thinking’. Put it in the diary, block out the time and you will soon stop considering it a luxury; more a game-changing necessity.

It Ain’t What You Do…

The success of a leader is impacted by a complex matrix of attributes, experience, luck and personality. However, the biggest single factor is that of influence, and that is almost entirely created by the way you conduct yourself.

The example that you set will be the tone of your leadership style and, ultimately, the tone of your team. This is true across all facets of leadership, but perhaps most apparent in your energy levels. 

Your level of energy, determines your effectiveness in influencing those around you.

The greater your ability to raise their energy levels and get their buy-in, the more effective you will be in leading others.

Nothing in this list is novel, and most will have heard the arguments before and consigned them to the ‘common-sense-which-I-don’t-need-help-with’ brain store. However, in the heat of battle, under the heavy pressure of leading a company, in the context of the blurred lines that deadlines create, you may find this list a useful tool for occasional objective reflection. And since it is such common sense, you will have already diarised the thinking time to do so.

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