The demand for great leadership is at an all-time high. All across the world, in business, academics and government, people want leaders that can be trusted, relied upon and that have a genuine commitment to help solve the pressing problems that are holding back the advancement of community, commerce and humanity. Many leaders get caught up in managing their image, legacy, power and influence rather than finding ways to become better leaders. Leadership is not a one-size fits all formula, yet too many leaders get complacent about how to more effectively lead – rather than embracing the journey and taking responsibility to motivate and inspire people and bring out their best. Leadership is about creating opportunities, managing them and sustaining positive outcomes for the betterment of a healthier whole. This is almost impossible for a leader to successfully achieve if they don’t take the time to self-examine and find ways to better understand themselves in order to be more effective at serving others.
Leaders need to be willing to break themselves apart – their natural tendencies, behaviors and how they approach people – that over time may lose their impact. Leaders must objectively assess and reexamine how to better commit themselves to their role and responsibilities – that everyone is paying attention to – more often than they are themselves. Leaders must continuously embrace feedback and critical input from others in order to keep rebuilding themselves to become more effective, stronger, smarter and compassionate. Great leaders know how to adjust and course correct because they have made it a point to continuously self-evaluate and stay on their toes. They are open-minded to fresh perspectives and are eager to learn how to apply their knowledge, ideas and ideals to different types of audiences and circumstances.
Leadership is about being proactive and responsibly experimental – not only in how you lead your organization and team, but also in how you build your own personal brand. In other words, leadership is about testing new ways of being more impactful with your own people (internally) in order to generate positive results (externally) – without being overly disruptive.
This past week, the world witnessed the fall of Paula Deen, the famous chef who lost her sponsors, branded product distribution and trust of the Food Network. Paula Deen was not only a brand, but a leader in the eyes of many – but yet failed miserably in her attempts to be experimental in how she would deliver an apology for her racial insensitivities.
Instead of being irresponsibly experimental, Paula Deen would have been more effective at telling the truth, being accountable and moving on with a lot less damage. Didn’t Lance Armstrong teach us all a thing or two about the importance of being accountable? People forgive honesty; yet they find it more difficult to forgive inanity. Unfortunately, too many leaders don’t accept responsibility for wrong doing, and thus miss the opportunity to earn respect. This is an example of when leaders become followers.
These lessons show us all that it’s important to stop at times – in order to know where you are going. So often leaders get caught-up in “their own world” – they forget about the best interests of those outside of it. Throughout the course of my own career, I’ve learned the benefits of stopping, reflecting and assessing. I learned that when you take the time to step back and look at the bigger picture of your leadership – you would have done many things differently along the way. Yet, because you are in a role of authority – many times you are not told the truth by your peers and colleagues about how to do things more effectively and purposefully. This is especially true of bosses who have not earned respect and are not viewed as trustworthy and transparent.
Because leaders deal with so much input each day, it’s almost impossible to keep up with it all. However, when you make it a point to stop, reflect and assess your actions, tendencies and behaviors – you will begin to see certain patterns that you can improve upon and/or eliminate all together. The key is to commit to self-examination before your leadership effectiveness and likeability begin to fade.
To help you get started on your self-examination commitment, here are three questions you must answer and hold yourself accountable to act upon – at least once every three months be a more effective, complete and relevant leader:
1. What Must I Keep Doing?
If you have a strong sense of self, than you know what works well and what doesn’t when leading others. However, can you still improve upon those things that work well? Yes, but be most critical of what doesn’t work well for you when dealing with people, as this is what you will need to focus your refinement efforts on first. For example, how is your attitude perceived? Do you engage and ask your employees and colleagues meaningful questions – or are you a bit standoffish? Do you set high levels of expectation and performance standards for your team? Or do you have a more relaxed approach that is not always taken seriously?
What are those things that work best for you? Make a more mindful commitment to keep doing them, but be aware that things could change by your next self-examination when it may be time to stop or start something new.
Note: during the self-examination process, create your own matrix that evolves over time. Here is a list of a few categories you may want to include:
2. What Must I Stop Doing?
Now that you are getting a handle on the self-examination process, let’s move on to the next question. Again, be critical about yourself. In fact, if you need help – ask someone you trust and that you know will provide you with honest feedback.
Stopping what you are doing requires real discipline. This means that you have reached the point of no return – and will begin to get out of bad habits or behaviors that ultimately hurt your ability to effectively lead. For example, perhaps you are asking your team to do important tasks that they are not capable of doing correctly. This may require you to train them, be more of an executive coach to them, or you must do the work with them (so that others can learn as you lead). Along the same lines, you may have an unapproachable leadership style that your team is not comfortable with.
Recently, I completed my self-examination process, and made the commitment to stop being too far out in front of certain business trends that my clients were not able to relate to or believe in, just yet. I needed to make a conscious effort to stay out in front of trends at a pace that would not cause too much disruption and eventually polarize my organization’s mission. As such, I am now more steady in expressing my points of view with a greater focus on organic thinking and growth that allows me to stay more in lock-step with my clients’ needs.
3. What Must I Start Doing?
Now that you know what you must keep doing and stop doing as leader – your ability to start doing new things is where you will truly be put to the test. When you create new tendencies and amplify new behaviors – this is when your employees and colleagues truly begin to take notice. In fact, I must warn you that this is also where you can potentially expose your weaknesses as a leader. As such, don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself – and pick only one or two things that you know you can consistently deliver on. Many times I’ve seen my own executive coaching clients make a lot of false promises that come back to hurt them in the end.
Get some quick wins, feel the difference and pay attention to how people respond. This will give you the insights you need as you commit to starting other new things in the future.
As you act upon what you are committing to start anew – people will begin to take notice, but will also hold you accountable. Again, commit to something you believe is important, but that you can also effectively manage.
Here is a recommendation that always works: be a better listener. This is an area that every leader can improve upon (and that very few ever master). Another one might be to spend more quality time with your employees (come out of your office more often).
Great leaders know what they are good at and where they must improve. If you are committed to being a great leader – then continuously self-examine and put in the time to be a better leader. Become more emotionally intelligent about yourself and watch how much more engaging and trustworthy of a leader you will become. Practice patience. Take your time. Think about these questions as you participate in meetings or while you are evaluating other leaders within your organization. Do you think they have made a commitment to self-examination as a leader? Start something new – and share this blog with them.