Workplace Wisdom

8 Things to Do to Be a Better Leader, Part 2

Whether you’re an experienced leader, an emerging leader, or a developer of leaders, you’re always looking for ways to help employees do better and feel better at work. Last week’s post covered four priority areas to help you work toward better performance with your team and within your organization.

This week, we’ll look more closely at self-awareness and self-management as crucial aspects of leadership. Here are four things you can do to make a significant contribution to your leadership success from the inside out:

  1. Be conscious of your impact on others. Make sure that your contributions are designed to further the organization’s greater good and help each individual make more progress. This isn’t about putting yourself, your role, or your own accomplishments forward. It’s about assessing your strengths and seeing where you can bring them to bear. Think about your “wingspan” and how you can shelter others by providing protective cover when necessary and how your focus and perspective can generate tailwinds whenever encouragement will help. And know how far your wingtips extend, so you don’t knock anyone out of the way or bowl them over with your intensity or authority. (See What’s Your Turning Radius? for more on self-awareness and impact.)

    Above all, don’t compete with the people you’re supposed to be helping, leading, or guiding. You don’t have to prove that you have more business acumen, better organizational savvy, greater technical knowledge, or superior smarts. All of that is already expected of you. So you don’t need to have the last word in every interaction or edit an extremely good proposal to make it just a hair better, and you definitely don’t have to add your own two cents to every creative idea. You’ll make your mark based on your total team’s development and successes.

  2. Help others grow and thrive. To put it simply, learn to love the people around you first. Be compassionate, open, and generous; look for what is noble, useful, or gifted in every employee. Do this automatically, every day. Then add discipline and rigor. Assume the best of everyone’s intentions, just as you would wish them to assume the best of yours.

    But leadership is not about being a softy either. You can’t drive progress, growth, or change without some tough-mindedness, an understanding of the business objectives, and the absolute requirements for performance. And if you don’t make the guidelines and guardrails clear, you’ll end up feeling unnecessarily impatient when people don’t deliver. You have to let people know where they stand, which sometimes means praising and recognizing them for things they’ve done well, or correcting and encouraging them when they need to improve. (See Baby Steps in Management: Four Routes to Effective Employee Development for more on helping employees grow.)

  3. Don’t give up if an interaction or a communication doesn’t work the first time. Sometimes the door doesn’t open when you knock. In that case, try to perceive the location in a new way: Look in the window or find a side entrance instead. In other words, don’t keep hammering the same message if no one accepted it the first time around, and don’t just leave the premises. Learn more about who’s in there, so you can revise the message or find a better approach to delivery.

    And keep in mind that your interactions will be more effective when you separate your thoughts about employees’ behavior and relationships from your concerns about the procedural and structural norms, issues, and content of any given situation — even when you have to address them all. Then you’re more likely to get in the door, because it will feel more like you’re truly working together and less like your communication is any kind of attack. (See The Truth about Workplace Feedback and The Connected Leader, parts I, II, III, and IV for more on successful leadership communication.)

  4. Show more than you tell. Being a leader is all about culture and values, but you can’t just announce what yours are and expect people to adopt them. It’s more effective to demonstrate the workplace behaviors you want to see rather than speechify about them. So show what you’re looking for, and then explain what you’ve just shown so that people will understand and remember it. That way, employees can choose to model your behaviors instead of being forced to change according to a new program or initiative. (See To Follow the Leader, Employees Need a Sense of Direction for more on letting people know what you want and why it matters.)

You’ll have frequent opportunities to explore the eight aspects of leadership in this pair of posts, but in the interest of maintaining your own sanity and continuing your forward momentum, please don’t try to work on all of them at the same time. And if you have different questions or needs in your role as a leader, let me know. I look forward to hearing from you and helping to set priorities for your self-development.

Onward and upward,

LK

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