When we think of leaders in the workplace it can be easy to reel off a list of high-profile names like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs or Indra Nooyi but leaders come in all shapes and forms. We can do well to learn from what it is to be a leader in other areas such as science (Albert Einstein), coaching (Oprah, Tony Robbins), politics (Malcom X), humanitarianism (Gandhi), our own fathers/mothers or friends who we look to and can turn to for guidance, creativity and support. Leadership is more than just ‘telling people what to do’, it’s about creating and holding the space for people to step into their own and shine. So as you evolve your own leadership skills and authentic presence, bare these following points in mind and ponder over the following questions.
Know your foundations
Leadership is often something we believe we are shaped by as we move from one workplace to another and watch or mirror those senior to us. We know what has helped to mould our behaviour or drive us the opposite way. But realistically how we feel about leadership and what makes a good leader is embedded within us from our earliest relationships with our caregivers, friends, school teachers or extended family.
- What was your earliest memory of the ‘leaders’ in your life? Were they challenging, strict, caring, enthusiastic, imaginative, regimental or hands-off?
- What did you respond to or rebel against the most and why? Can you see any similarities or marked differences in how you lead today?
It's useful to equate your signature leadership style to a ‘tree’. Knowing your foundations and what styles of leadership have shaped you as you grow up provides the roots. Once you’ve looked at that, it’s important to look at your trunk/surface above ground, the elements that people can see, observe and react to. By taking the time to be honest and real with yourself, you should start to identify some of your strengths, weaknesses and blindspots you have that may trigger those around you in a negative way. Blindspots can be anything from going it alone, to avoiding difficult conversations to shying away from conflict or sticking to ‘I know it all’ stance.
- Ask those closest to you, colleagues and a manager what would they say are your top 3 strengths, weaknesses and blindspots?
- What strengths, weakness or blindspots have helped or hindered you in your leadership abilities and where do you need to change for the benefit of your teams and others around you?
It goes without saying that being a great leader vs just a boss is about taking the time to encourage your teams, nurture their growth and guide them towards fulfilling goals which benefit all and the wider company. Taking the time to get to know those you lead, keeps you curious as a leader and knowledgable about what makes them tick and what doesn't. Building relationships is a slow and consistent process, but it helps your tree to grow branches and leaves and spread outwards. It’s important to have the courage to make this a priority over just focusing on the bottom line. I believe relationships are synonymous with going on an adventure. We must take the time to enjoy the journey, the dips and dives, the twists and turns, the learnings and the unknown. By focus on being interested vs interesting, you can get the best out of your teams through asking the right questions and actually listening to the answers.
- When was the last time you consciously looked for opportunities to connect with your team members or others?
- What are your team members saying or not saying in their non-verbal cures? What quirks or traits are you missing that could be useful intel to help you place people on the right projects? By building emotional currency in your work/team relationships, it provide you with insights on how to respond better to them in situations of crisis or change.
Build your support
Every successful leader, innovator, coach or politician has their ‘consigliere’. Think of this as finding a way to keep feeding your ‘tree’. There is no shame in not knowing the answers to everything. Often leaders can be so tunnel vision in their approach that they miss the power in letting go, being present and seeking advice/resources/feedback from others. It’s important to seek out people who want you to grow professionally and personally, who can provide critical honest feedback and/or just be a listening ear. We are the sum of the people we hold closest to us, but how are they shaping you as a leader at work and in your life?
- Which types of ‘leadership’ mentors are you lacking? Who will you find to be in your superpower support team and how will you ask them?
- If you are resistant to asking for help, ask yourself why? Why are you shying away from seeking support? Identify the ways are you preventing your own growth by going it alone.
By weaving together all these four strands, you can slowly cultivate your signature leadership ‘tree’ style that is an honest representation of who you are and one that your colleagues and teams will gravitate towards and embrace for success.