How are your leadership skills? Likely not as good as you think. There’s no shortage of independent empirical data generated over the years supporting the fact most people tend to overrate their leadership ability. The best leaders the world has ever known had room for improvement – so do you. I’ve always said leaders need to get over themselves and get on to the practice of leadership. In today’s post, I’ll offer 8 things every leader should evaluate with regard to their capabilities.
People arrive at a position of leadership in many different ways – some individuals openly and aggressively seek out positions of leadership, while leadership is thrust upon others. Whether leaders are elected, appointed, anointed, or self-proclaimed, and regardless of whether it’s by design or default, once in a position of leadership they all carry the burden and responsibilities associated with being a leader. The question is, do most leaders live up to their responsibilities?
Leader Beware – ignorant bliss, no matter how enjoyable, is still ignorant. If you’re in a position of leadership and don’t feel you have any blind spots, you’re either very naïve or very arrogant. All leaders have blind spots – the question is what are they doing about them? The reality is most leaders invest so much time assessing the cultural and functional dynamics of their organizations they often forget the importance of critically assessing themselves – big mistake.
It has consistently been my experience, leaders who are not growing are simply incapable of leading growing organizations. Moreover, leaders who fail to continue developing will always be replaced by those who do. A leader who fails to understand the value of self-awareness fails to understand their own true potential as a leader.
It’s at the C-suite level an executive must be on top of his/her game as they have the broadest sphere of influence, the largest ability to impact a business, and they also now have the most at risk. It is at this place the leader should make the heaviest investment in refining their leadership ability, because increased performance will pay the biggest dividends. Let me be as clear as I can – the more responsibility a leader has, the bigger their obligation to be on the forward edge of learning, growth and development.
Think about this – YOU are the single biggest threat to your role as a leader. This means YOU are also the single biggest risk to those whom you lead, your employees, your family, and to your friends. If you are in a position of leadership, you will lead – you will either lead people toward the right things or lead them astray, but you will lead.
The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates had a few guiding principles that today’s leaders would do well to adopt: Socrates said, “Know Thyself” and “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Those leaders who actively pursue gaining a better understanding of themselves will not only reduce their number of blind spots, but they’ll also find developing a sense of awareness is the key to increasing emotional intelligence. The better you know yourself the more effective you’ll be, and the better you’ll relate to others.
Following are 8 things I suggest you reflect upon should you desire to continue to develop as a leader:
- Never Stop Learning: I’ve never understood leaders who make heavy investments in personal and professional development early in their careers, who then go on to make only minimal investments in learning once they have reached the C-suite. Learning and development are lifelong endeavors. The learning journey doesn’t come to an end just because you reach a certain station in life – or at least it shouldn’t.
- Context Matters: Just as life is not static, neither is the environment you work in. Leadership isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. The best leaders apply their craft contextually based upon the needs of those whom they serve. If you don’t know how to nuance your leadership skills you will simply miss opportunities others won’t.
- Be Kind: People go out of their way to help those whom they like. Likewise most people won’t lift a finger to help those they don’t care for. Smart leaders are purposed to build into those they lead. They understand leadership success is found by ensuring those they lead are better off for being led by them. Self-serving, arrogant, or belittling behavior may feed your ego, but it doesn’t serve your best interests as a leader.
- Surrender: A leader simply operates at their best when they understand their ability to influence is much more fruitful than their attempt to control. Here’s the thing – the purpose of leadership is not to shine the spotlight on yourself, but to unlock the potential of others so they can in turn shine the spotlight on countless more. Control is about power – not leadership. Surrender allows a leader to get out of their own way and focus on adding value to those they serve. Forget span of control and think span of influence.
- Begin the Process of Unlearning: Just as important as learning is shedding the emotional and intellectual baggage trapping you in the past. Human nature causes most of us to hold onto wrong, unhealthy, or outdated ideas, concepts, thoughts, feelings or practices. The fastest way to become a better leader is to challenge your own logic. If you’re really serious about finding the flaws in your thinking, ask others to help you identify gaps or faults, and then listen very carefully to what they share with you.
- Likeability Matters: While becoming a great leader shouldn’t be reduced to a popularity contest, the fact is most great leaders are both well liked and respected. They have the full faith and trust of their stakeholders, and possess strong positive relationships across constituencies. What do you reflect, and what do people see in you? If you are not well liked and respected then you will have consistent, self-imposed obstacles placed in your path that inhibit your ability to be an effective leader. Ask yourself this question – If an election for CEO were held today, would your stakeholders re-elect you in a landslide victory? If not, why not?
- Attract Don’t Repel: If people see you coming and quickly run the other way, you have a leadership problem. If people shy away from you versus clamor for your attention, you need to work on your leadership.The simple truth is people strongly desire to work with and for great leaders. Great CEOs are talent magnets…people want to be led by those who have much to offer. If you struggle with recruiting, team building, and leadership development your leadership skills are in need of improvement.
- Results: Great leaders produce great outcomes. If you have vision, strategy, talent, culture, or performance problems you have a leadership problem. Remember, businesses don’t fail – leaders do.
Becoming a better leader isn’t difficult, but it does take effort. It requires you to place humility above hubris, and to place a higher value on truth than you do on your ability to rationalize and justify your thinking. It means placing more emphasis on the right outcome than being right. I’d encourage you to view yourself as a lifelong student of leadership more than a master of leadership – it will serve you and those you lead well.