Wednesday, April 9, 2014

4 Short Cuts to Great Leadership

Oh wait… sorry… no… there are no shortcuts to Leadership.  I guess that title was a little misleading.

You will however see lots of articles and blog posts offering to give you the “7 Secrets…” or the “5 Keys…” or perhaps “Leadership Lessons I Learned from my Hairdresser…”  While I’m sure these articles are well intentioned, I find they are not much good when it comes to actually helping us become better Leaders.  So… you ask with some cynicism… what then will help me become a better Leader smart guy?

The only thing I have found that enables people to be better at showing… living the qualities of a Leader, is personal growth.  I believe that the way we act is guided mostly by what we believe; that is… how we feel about ourselves, the world around us, and how we see ourselves fitting into this world. 

I believe that Leadership is inside each of us, and it is tied inexorably to how we see the world.  Leadership can perhaps be described by a long list of actions, however if we see the world in the right way, we do not have to be told to act like a Leader.  We all know natural Leaders who do not have to be instructed to act like Leaders.  If we see ourselves and the world in the right way we won’t have to be told to care for others, to build relationships, to be generous, to surround ourselves with great people, or to be self responsible.  Let me explain further with some examples…

Our attitudes determine what decisions we make, and what actions we take.  I believe it’s all determined by how we see ourselves in the world, by self-awareness and how we feel about ourselves.  I’ll list some, and there are countless examples we could think of given the time…

If we see the world as a safe place, we are willing to take chances.  We can extend trust.  We can make our own mistakes, and allow others to take chances and make their mistakes.  We won’t feel the need to micromanage or control everything happening around us.  We feel safe hiring those who might be smarter than us, or better natural Leaders.

When the world is not safe, we cannot be trusting of others.  We do not take chances or allow others to make mistakes that might make us look bad.  We cannot allow anyone to endanger us, and so we try to control every situation.  Our mistakes cannot be made public, and we cannot admit our faults.  We will feel threatened by those who might be better than we are and will not want them around.

If we believe in abundance, and that there is enough of everything to go around, we can give freely.  If we feel giving love, credit, or appreciation does not diminish us, we can give them without thinking twice. We will choose to give away credit.  We will care about the needs and goals of those around us, so we can help fill those needs and achieve their goals.  We easily and often express our appreciation for others and their actions in a way that is easy for them to understand.  Hearing that we should give 9 positives to each negative does not surprise us, or present a challenge.  There are plenty of positives to go around, and giving thanks or recognizing others doesn’t take anything away from us.

When we do not feel abundance, when things like love and appreciation are in short supply, we certainly cannot give any away.  When we cannot give without losing something, we not only keep credit, but also take credit from others.  We cannot openly appreciate the actions of others without feeling somehow smaller, so we do not show appreciation.  Seeing others achieve their goals threatens our ability to achieve ours, so we cannot help them. 

If we know that we are good enough... that we are deserving and valuable just the way we are, we do not need to be held up by others.  We can stand up for our own personal values and beliefs.  We can take responsibility for our actions and those of our team members, because those mistakes and failings do not diminish who we are.  We stand behind our team members when they take chances, no matter the outcome.  We can admit our mistake publicly to show others our humanity, and use our mistakes to help teach lessons.  We can hear feedback without feeling attacked.  We understand constructive criticism is meant to help us grow, and we appreciate those willing to tell us the truth.  We feel good about giving away credit, and helping others succeed, as these do not reduce our value in any way. 

When we are not enough we constantly need praise and appreciation from others to give us value.  We cannot take responsibility for our mistakes or those of our team members.  We cannot be seen in any negative light, and so throw others under the bus to save ourselves.  We blame others when things go sideways… we are never the ones at fault.  We go whichever way the wind blows, and take the side of the person who can give us what we want.  We do not stand for anything if that means standing alone.

If we genuinely care about others, we are interested in building strong relationships with them.  We invest time and energy in these relationships.  These relationships will be built on honesty and genuine feelings.  We want to make those things that are important to others important to us too.  We do what we can to make others feel special, and help them achieve their goals.  We encourage them, and cheer when they find success.  Seeing others succeed does not make us jealous… we can be truly happy for them.  Because we sincerely care about others, we are able to give them feedback with empathy, and in a way that allows them to hear it as intended.  Giving feedback is for their benefit, not ours.  The point is to help them grow, not to show our power over them, or how we are better than they are.

When we care only for ourselves we use people as a means to an end… they are tools to be used and put down.  We cannot build strong relationships because we are not honest and transparent with others.  Others are not worth our time or energy, and we will not go out of our way to help them.  We are not interested in helping other succeed unless we also directly benefit somehow.  Those who do not care about others are unconcerned with how feedback is taken, as long as they get the behavior they want. 

If we are confident in our abilities and ourselves we have a clear picture of ourselves, and we don’t use our abilities to measure our worth as people.  Since our abilities are not a measure of our worth, we can more easily hear criticism as helpful feedback.  We don’t have to know everything, and we can admit it when we need help from others.  We’re happy to work as part of a team, and we can help others become more skilled than we are.

When we lack confidence, and/or judge our worth by our abilities, criticism is felt as a personal attack.  When our sense of self worth is in danger we will fend off attacks as if defending our very lives.  We cannot admit that we don’t know it all, and surely cannot admit our mistakes or our faults.

Leadership then is a way of being.  It’s a way of thinking and feeling about ourselves, and the world around us.  So… the only way for us consistently take the actions that model good Leadership is to work on ourselves, with a therapist, mentor, or coach.  Our personal growth is the key to being better Leaders.  We have to become better people.  The work is not easy, and only I can do my personal work.  However the payoff is more than worth it.

Perhaps the real question… the answer to which could fill the world of tomorrow with Leaders… is how do we get others, the people we want to help develop, to understand that it’s the way they see themselves and the world that is the only thing keeping them from becoming better Leaders?  Riddle me that!

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