It’s one thing to become a leader. It’s an entirely different thing to endure in a leadership role successfully. People often get tapped for their first leadership role because they delivered exceptional individual performance — they exceeded performance standards; met deadlines; and productively knocked items off their to-do lists.
Leading people, however, is way different from being personally productive as an individual contributor. Then your success was largely reliant upon yourself. Your success is contingent upon the engagement, productivity, and performance of those you lead. Unless you’re helping them become more valuable by adding more value each day, you won’t last long as a leader.
Leadership can feel like a heavy burden. You’ll serve bosses who expect better and better results while giving you fewer and fewer resources. You’ll spend way more time than you ever imagined dealing with human idiosyncrasies, fickle preferences, and personal pettiness. You’ll often have to navigate through internal politics and competitive executive jockeying. You’ll deal with a ton of administrative and compliance protocols that seem to have nothing to do with performance and everything to do with covering the company’s rear end.
Oh yeah! And you’ll probably spend way more time at work than you do at home, which no one at home will appreciate. Even when you are home, you’ll remain connected to work.
Now, let’s be clear: leadership can be fantastically rewarding too. You’ll get to shape decisions and outcomes while creatively solving problems. You and your team will experience rousing triumphs together. And occasionally you’ll help identify, nurture, mentor, and activate the leader in someone else. The most rewarding part of leading others is contributing to their career growth.
So how do you remove the burdens of leading so that you can enjoy the privilege of being in a leadership role? You’ll endure as a leader if you focus on three essential elements of leadership: Leading yourself, leading others, and leading work.
Leadership starts with self-awareness and self-discipline. You’ve got to know what you’re good at, and what you’d be wise to hand off to others. You’ve got to have a deep value system that can help you weather tough people and situations. And you’ve got to manage and prioritize your time. If you can’t lead yourself, what qualifies you to lead others? Leading Yourself involves:
- Knowing thyself. Identify the formative experiences that helped shape your beliefs about leadership. Who were your earliest leadership role models? What did you learn by watching them? Also, identify your “sunshine and shadows” — your strengths and the shadows those strengths cast when you overuse them.
- Modeling principles. Having deeply held values leads to inner strength, helping you withstand inevitable workplace headwinds. Be clear about what you stand for — and against. List your deepest held values. Which do you embody? Which do you need to improve on?
- Practicing humility. Always remember that you’re not better than the people you’re privileged to lead. Never be arrogant. Practice humility by asking people for their input and listening to and heeding their advice. Giving respect is the way to gain respect.
Your success as a leader is contingent upon how successfully you help others. Your leadership influence should be focused on helping everyone you work with to add more value — literally helping them become more valuable. That requires investing time in their development, giving them your focused attention, and drawing out the leader in them through your coaching and feedback. Here’s how:
- Create safety. People will experiment, innovate, and take risks if you make it safe for them to do so. Don’t bite people’s heads off when they make forward-falling mistakes. Don’t intimidate or stoke people’s fears. Invite feedback and thank people when they give it to you. Psychological safety is just as important as physical safety.
- Nurture talent. Invest at least 15 minutes every two weeks with each person who reports to you. Don’t make them sit in the small chair in front of your big desk. You go to them. Be sure not to focus on the status of projects and tasks. Instead, check in with them. Ask how they’re doing and what you can do for them. Those 15 minutes will dramatically strengthen the relationship and build mutual respect and loyalty.
- Promote inclusion. Your job is to foster an environment where every single person can bring their full selves to work and be totally engaged. Welcome, encourage, and foster diversity in all its expressions. You’ll actively promote diversity, equity, and inclusion if you care about getting great results.
Leaders are judged by the results they achieve. The whole point of leadership is to produce positive outcomes that didn’t exist before. You and your team need to deliver effectively and consistently. Leadership has everything to do with adding value and getting results. Here’s how:
- Love business. Business can be intimidating. The more experience you gain, the more business-minded you’ll become, and the less intimidating business will be. Talk to leaders you admire. Ask them to share the big decisions they faced and the factors they considered when facing them. Join a professional association and broaden your network. Keep an ongoing journal to document your leadership lessons.
- Master management. The more you master management fundamentals, the more equipped you’ll be to face complex situations. Set clear plans, goals, and milestones. Review progress intently. Equip people with the tools and resources they need. Provide coaching and feedback. Reward stellar performance. Be fiscally disciplined.
- Lead up. Support your bosses’ success. Earn their respect by being candid, keeping them updated, and giving them helpful feedback. Look out for stuff that they might be missing. When they give you an assignment, overdeliver. You don’t have to be a kiss-up or yes-person. You can be loyal to your boss and loyal to yourself at the same time.
Yes, leadership can be hard, challenging, and scary. A lot of people are counting on you. Don’t let that be a burden. Instead, get yourself into good leadership shape. Be courageous and stay focused on building up your leadership fitness. You’ll be fit to lead when you’re fully dedicated to Leading Yourself, Leading Others, and Leading Work.
Bill Treasurer is a bestselling author, leadership coach, ex-high diver, and courage-building pioneer. His newest book Leadership Two Words at a Time focuses on the essentials of enduring leadership. Learn more about Bill and his company at giantleapconsulting.com.
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