I was in a training/workshop about Leadership a few years ago and a round robin was done focused on defining what leadership is all about. When it got to me, I took a pause to further reflect and later said that “Leadership does not take you to a destination, it takes you on a journey”. I realized that no matter the heights that you have supposedly attained in leadership, you never really arrive. You keep becoming a better version of yourself as long as you do not have what I call the “destination mentality” about leadership.
Here I share a few of the practical lessons I have learnt along my journey.
Diversity is a key ingredient for innovation
Growing up, I used to think that there was something wrong with people who were not like me – I mean people with different temperaments, points of view, mannerisms, etc. If we consider the 4 different temperaments as elucidated by Tim Lahaye in his book, “Why you act the way you do”, I am more of a phlegmatic and primarily introverted. When I saw or interacted with people of different temperaments, I started thinking, what is their problem?
A few years post tertiary education, and having worked with people of different temperaments, backgrounds, race, etc., I have come to realize that you can never challenge the status quo and come up with innovative ideas if you all think and act the same.
As a leader, you need to be able to create an environment where people’s voices, ideas, opinions, feedback, critiques, etc., can be aired. Invite the silent voices to contribute and not just the usual extroverted voices. This will enable what I call the cross-breeding of ideas as against in-breeding of ideas which is usually invalid. Get it?
Advancement in leadership requires candid feedback and action
When was the last time you received feedback from your team members regarding what you are great at, and the opportunities you have for growth? If you do not seek out constant feedback and act on it, your leadership development will be stunted.
I have realized that getting feedback is a process I have to own and not rely on my organization and intuition of my colleagues to give me feedback. I have to ask for it. Not everyone will always have the courage and spontaneity to step up and give you feedback if you don’t show, over time, your willingness to receive it with grace.
For me, feedback is like the mirror for leadership growth. It’s a gift. Without this mirror, one may continue to live in a world of mediocrity and be oblivious of it.
You need a balance between people and task focus to be successful
One of the feedbacks I got early in my career is related to people-task balance which showed that I was skewed towards the task side. I struggled with this feedback initially but after some introspection, I realized it was true. I realized that the majority of my interaction with colleagues was transactional and I would spend virtually the whole day focusing on tasks in my cubicle and interact very sparingly except in meetings.
If all we need to accomplish are tasks then robots and machines can easily replace us. We are humans, and human interactions are only meaningful and motivating when they have the human touch. Being people focused has to do with caring genuinely about people and how to help them succeed.
It is important to be task-focused but you will not be able to get the result you need if your people-focus is lagging, because human beings are not machines. We are emotional beings and our emotions drive our motivations and eventually the results we produce.
You do not need authority to influence people
Leadership by authority has its pros and cons. One of the cons is that if you do not consciously devote time to explain the “Why” and get the buy-in of your colleagues, you will easily default to the authority you have over them to lord things over them. Of course, your colleagues will go your way even though they know a better way which you have not created an environment for them to express.
I have had the opportunity to lead by authority and by influence, and I have realized that the latter is more fulfilling, durable and impactful. Leading by influence is being deliberate about helping people understand the why, connecting with them in a way that is inspiring and helping them appreciate how collaborating with you will benefit them.
Don’t get me wrong, leading by influence is not easy, in fact it is more difficult than authority but it builds great working relationships and people would just want to work with you to do great things.
If you are not uncomfortable you are not growing
The comfort zone is the burial ground of growth and self development. I saw a video on YouTube about how the lobster grows even though it has a rigid exoskeleton. The lobster starts feeling uncomfortable when it’s time to grow and then goes to a safe area, free from predators to shed its exoskeleton, gets space to grow and then grows a new exoskeleton. It repeats this process over and over again in order to grow.
We need to leave our comfort zone in order to grow. If you are not feeling discomfort (in terms of your competence with technical skills, people skills, soft skills, etc) accomplishing anything, believe me, you are not growing. The discomfort is an opportunity to grow, to learn and to become a better version of yourself.
I will leave you with these 5 learnings for now. Please feel free to comment and share your own perspectives, experience and learnings as well.
You can also check out my blog post on leadership and followership titled Like Leaders Like Followers?
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