Your leadership actions are predictors of your organization’s success.
If you are in any kind of a management position right now, sit down with a pen and paper and take five minutes to write down your answer to this question:
Why would anyone want to follow me?
If you come up with a list of reasons like “Because I’m in charge,” “I started this company,” or, “They don’t have a choice, I call the shots,” then you have fallen into the talent drain trap door. As soon as you believe that people follow you because you have the mandate to tell them what to do, you have stumbled upon the reason talented people have, are and will leave your company.
Questions of organizational hierarchy aside, there are several issues that arise from thinking people should just do what you say because you are in charge. The first one is that, whether you like it or not, power breeds nastiness. So the more authority you have by way of your title and job function, the more likely you are to not listen, to think you are always right and to assume that if your employees are not following you it is because they have serious character flaws.
This hard truth means that you have to regularly and consciously work to mitigate that attitude to remain effective as a leader: if you aren’t consciously monitoring your thoughts, words, and behaviours, it’s as though you are driving fast down a dark road with no lights on. The crash at the end will be the blow of retention, especially retention of your most talented staff, and there’s a good chance you’ll destroy your reputation and damage market share if you don’t fix what caused your crash to begin with.
I’m not going to talk at all about what you can do to build your team in this post (check HERE and HERE for a couple ideas on that), but I am going to focus on what you can do to become the kind of leader others want to follow. After all, you’ll agree that this is the foundation of any team development you will do later.
Becoming a leader worth following
The usual response from the audience is a loud gasp followed by insistent questions about how to change this problem. Usually they don’t like Rene Safrata’s answer though. It starts with every person in the room adopting the humble position of a learner. People who learn constantly are better leaders. So how do you get into the learning mindset when you are so busy managing your other duties?
Start with a personal assessment and an accountability coach.
If you haven’t already done so, one of the best ways to get into learner mode is to do an assessment of your leadership skills. There are lots of them out there: Disc, MBTI, WPI to name but a few. Any assessment will provide you with an objective portrait of what you are doing well and what you are not doing well.
Now that you are clearer about yourself, you’re ready to move to the next step:
Get into a course, hire a coach or join a mastermind group to get honest feedback.
Surround yourself with a network of people who will identify what you need to change to be a better leader. This process is referred to as getting an accountability coach. You don’t want people who will just tell you how great you are if you actually want to become a better leader. You do want someone who will give you both valid, clear feedback and the support you need to make changes. That is what an accountability course, coach or group can do for you.
I do quite a bit of meeting with company and organizational leaders and the owners, presidents and C-suite managers are generally quick to point out how great they are and how badly their employees need development. Unfortunately – or fortunately depending on how you look at it – if you want to see some changes in your employee behaviour and attitudes, you are the one who has to change first, and it’s also you as the leader who needs to take the biggest, hardest risks.
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Which, leads to our next item:
Develop the “Top 5” leadership behaviours.
- Having a service mentality – This means you have an attitude of “What can I do to equip you to do your job more easily?”
- Doing the hard thing – For example, choosing not to argue with an employee who is hot headed, taking the high road when under pressure, looking for the good in people, being transparent about company problems and clear about what you and others are expected to do to solve them, showing the best and most courageous example…you get the picture.
- Developing a network of people who you can connect with and whom you connect to others – An easy assessment to use here: if you can think of someone to bring to the table for solving most issues, your network is solid. If not, you may need to be spending more time growing out the base of your network. One of the most important strongholds of influence is the ability to command the right kind of army of human and material resources to a mission or a problem. Make sure you are developing this.
- Giving personal attention to others – Taking the necessary time in the beginning to ensure new people know their job and the people who will be working with them, checking in on how people are doing, finding out how they are feeling, and discovering what ideas they have, making regular one-on-one meetings a priority with staff…all are key to forming positive relationships. Practices as simple as greeting people by name, finding out about them and coming to company events where you and they can get to know each other better can add immense value (social and financial) to companies. Patience is the hallmark of this behaviour. If you are always in a rush and make people feel like they are less important than everything else you have to do, they will not feel valued by your attention, rather they will avoid it.
- Allowing people the space to learn – Support your team and allow them to make mistakes (within reason) without punishing them for it. Big respect comes from trusting people to do their jobs, but of course you can’t do that if you haven’t given them the personal attention first. When they make a mistake, don’t throw them under bus and say they should have listened to you earlier. Save their dignity and have them come up with a solution to the issue without making them lose face.
All these set the stage for our last step in becoming a leader worth following:
Be voraciously hungry to learn.
My favourite way to keep learning is to listen to podcasts and audio books. I have a grueling schedule that starts at 5:00 a.m. and frequently ends late at night. Often the only way I can fit in regular leadership learning is by listening while I’m doing something like driving or dressing or doing the dishes. This simple strategy lets me fit in thousands of hours of learning from podcasts alone just because I turn them on during these activities.
My goal over the past year was to become as expert in online marketing as I possibly could. I wasn’t even aware that I was picking up so much marketing information from podcasts until I had a meeting with a group of marketers and one of them said, “How long have you been working in marketing? I could learn a few tips from you.” I was dumbstruck because I consider myself to be just at the very beginning of marketing learning. I must have picked up something though, or I wouldn’t have made a good impression on this group of marketing professionals.
My other favorite way to keep learning is to enroll in online courses. I have two times I schedule for learning with my courses; an hour Wednesday night and an hour Saturday morning. If I miss one of those times, I always get the second one. Getting through the courses takes a bit of time, but I always find out new things I can apply from them and I get ideas for what I do want to do or not do for my own online course creation.
Finally going to events where you are likely to meet new people and learn from them a great way to keep learning about leadership. One I wish I had discovered earlier is Capital Ideas in Edmonton (they are in various cities – Meetup and business learning groups do similar things). They have a monthly panel discussion about a topic that is pertinent to business owners and that discussion then becomes one of their podcasts. They also ask a hard question each month that other business owners submit answers to and I look for those answers each month because they are very practical.
Pulling it together
So in conclusion, to be the kind of leader people want to follow you need to start with these four things:
- Find a way to honestly assess your strengths and weakness using an assessment tool
- Get an accountability coach, course or mastermind group to keep you honest
- Strive to become a living example of Jeff Schmitt’s five leadership benchmark behaviours
- Develop a hunger to learn all the time using tools that fit into your schedule and personal style
Once you have put these strategies into place, you will be amazed at the talented people you attract and the talent that starts to bloom in your organization. Remember that the power to act resides within the individual: your actions to learn to lead in the best way possible will ignite the desire in your staff to do the same.
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