I have been reading a lot of leadership books lately as I prepare for an exciting course I will be offering this fall. The books I have been reading have not been on The Top Ten Things You Need to Do to be a Better Leader or How to Make Your Employees Do What You Want. They instead have been books on personal growth. The lessons I am learning are about personal mastery in our lives and how that carries into our leadership positions. It is proving to be an incredible learning experience for me.
Leadership Power Through Titles
When I was a manager, supervising a team of employees, my leadership came partly from my title or the role I was in. Supervisor, Manager, Director or Boss; all titles that give someone power in a position. But the real power, the real beauty of great leaders comes not from their title (see works by Robin Sharma) but through who they are as leaders.
Leadership Power From Within
Reread that last sentence again. It comes from who they are, not what they do. The essence of a great leader comes from within. It comes from their values and beliefs, their life experience and how they see those as well as their vision for the future. It comes through their willingness to be courageously authentic in all they do.
Authentic means real, as opposed to false or imitation. That means if you are angry, you are angry, if you don’t know what to do, you don’t know what to do and if you need help, you ask for it. It also means if you believe strongly in something; you say that and your actions align with what you believe.
Leaders need to look internally
Where upcoming leaders often struggle is they look externally for fixes and as such, tend to blame others or their situation. “If only I had better educated staff”, “If only my boss would let me handle the situation the way I want to handle it” or “If I didn’t have so much on my plate I could give this the attention it deserves”. While all of these facts may be true, the real truth is great leaders look internally at themselves and see what they are doing, how they are handling the situation, but more importantly, what their inner beliefs are and how those beliefs may be getting in the way.
Performance Reviews Can Help
One of the ways upcoming leaders can do this is to participate in regular reviews of their performance. 360’s performance reviews (See The Leadership Circle Profile) are great ways to start this process. These reviews allow leaders to hold a mirror up and see the reflection back of what they are emitting to the world.
· What do the people around you say about you as a leader?
· How does this align with who you think you are as a leader?
· Where are the gaps?
This starting point allows you to go deeper. It allows you to look at why you might not be getting the results you want. And rather than looking outward through your glasses that say “It’s their fault things aren’t working out” or “I just need to get better at delegating, time management or running meetings ”, you start to look at your beliefs, how they get in the way,
Find your Shadow Beliefs
Kevin Cashman, author of the Leadership From the Inside Out says
“personal mastery is acknowledging our strengths and talents while facing our underdeveloped, hidden or shadow sides of ourselves”.
Do you remember the adage, a strength overused becomes a weakness. Cashman takes it one step further. He says, a strength, combined with what he calls a shadow belief, can become a weakness.
The strength of the leadership competency of “focus” combined with the shadow belief of “I must know ever detail to feel comfortable” suddenly can become the weakness of rigidity and lack of trust in your employees.
Strength + Shadow Belief = Weakness
Focus + I must know every = Rigidity/lack of trust
detail to feel comfortable
Focus on Personal Growth and You Will Become a Great Leader
Great leaders take the time to get to know themselves. They value personal growth and increase awareness. By looking internally at how they lead, they are more consciously projecting what they intend to project and find when they hold the mirror up again, they are pleased to see the results of their hard work.
In organizations we spend a lot of time analyzing and assessing others. What type are they, what style do they have and which category do they fit in to? This seemingly helps us figure out how to deal with them, train them and ultimately control them. Because really, we want them to do, what we want them to do right? Um, I don’t think so!
I believe there is some value to assessments. In fact, I complete both a 360 Leadership Assessment and a Leadership Culture Survey for organizations. But the truth is the reason to conduct this type of analysis should not be to learn how to control employees. Instead, assessments can provide a guide for individuals to look inward at who they are, their skills, strengths and passions. It can be inspiring to them to see what they can do to be strong individually and a respected and valued contributing member to the organization. Rather than a weapon or a tool leaders have to demand a certain type of performance from their staff, assessments can be a gift to workers to find their potential so they can find the real meaning in their work.
That brings me to my next point. Our goal, and I this is where I see many organizations struggle, is to have everyone be an active contributing member of the team. Many organizations ask for input. They put people onto committees and put systems in place for everyone to contribute. Regrettably, in many situations, this is just lip service. The leaders and the leadership team have their own agenda and ideas. They know which way they want things to go and despite input from the team, they go in that direction, right or right, good or bad.
Really getting employee input and contribution requires leaders to let go of the reins. It means, giving a task, challenge or opportunity to a team without a preconceived idea of how they are going to meet it. The leaders must give them the resources to experiment, be curious, fail and try again. It requires you as a leader to champion them, encourage them and take them out of their comfort zone so they can be creative, innovative and ingenious.
Assessments in your organization can show you and more importantly your employee where they will excel in the process of being active team members. It will provide guidance to explore how they show up at work, their communication styles and the impact of their responses to others so they can effectively work with others to achieve the results they and the organization are looking for.
The next time you evaluate someone who reports to you, slow the process down. See what the individual who is being assessed can glean from the process before you offer your input. Here are some potential questions to start the process:
Notice there are no “Why?” questions. Why tends to put people on the defensive. They feel the need to protect who they are, their style, skills and way of working. This can lead to the employee pulling in and putting walls up. As a leader, relax and let them talk, notice and be curious.
Assessments can be powerful tools when used to promote employee growth and development rather than to control employees and demand they change. Look carefully at how you and your organization use assessment with individuals. Are they something people run from or are they an opportunity for real growth and development for the indivdual?
If work life balance is the most motivating factor at work, why are so many people unbalanced? You see them working longer hours, taking work home, unable to shut off at the end of the day and accumulating vacation that they never seem to find the time to take. And with this comes the impact on their health and their relationships. So many people blame their employer. “They expect too much!” “I have deadlines to meet!” “It has to get done!” I don’t necessarily agree.
A New Perspective
Is it really true that all of that work must get done? Now? Perhaps it is true to some degree. And I believe possibly there is some wiggle room. You just have to find it. But to find it you have to look, you have to push back and you have to stretch to find it and create the work life balance you desire.
Have you ever been stuck? I mean really stuck someplace. Maybe it was your vehicle stuck in the snow or mud or maybe it was you who were stuck physically between something. How did you get out? When I have gotten my vehicle stuck I rocked it to get it out. Back up, go forward. Accelerate a bit. Let go of the gas and rock back. Back and forth, back and forth until I found some leverage and got out.
It is like that at work. Things get piled on top of you. Your schedule gets fuller and fuller as you jam things in, beside each other and then on top of each other. Before you know it, you are stuck solidly in the middle of mounds of work with, what it feels like, no room to move.
In order to get out, you have to move. You have to wiggle. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to say to you boss, “I am sorry, I can’t take that on until I am done this project”. Yes, it is hard to book a vacation and really shut off. And yes it is awkward to hand the on-call phone to someone else for a change. But in order to find your way out, you have to rock back and forth.
It's Up to You
I am here to tell you, no one else can wiggle for you. Your boss, your employees and your stakeholders are not going to take work off your plate. You have to do it yourself. If you want to find work life balance you need to create it yourself. Society has created this monstrous unhealthy work environment. But society as a whole isn’t going to change it. It takes one person and then another to say “Whoa! I’ve had enough”.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Work-life balance allows you to enjoy your life more. It allows you experience work as part of your life rather than your whole life. Work life balance comes to those who create it and value it. It requires effort and work to make it happen. It entails you being clear in your work world that you will work hard, be dedicated and loyal, have a good work ethic and enjoy the rest of your life too!
I have a dream or a vision or a belief in organizations who have connected leaders. This central vision allows me to do the work I do. It helps me to reach out, plan my work, to evoke change and transformation and to feel inspired. This dream gives me energy and enthusiasm to coach others, to train, to speak and to write. Here is what I see.
I vision leaders who are connected. They are conscious and present in their work and in their interactions with everyone they come into contact with. They are connected to their own inner wisdom and use it to grow themselves.
I vision leaders who are aware of changes in their organizations. They are mindful of the effect of change, how it is affecting everyone on their team and how it is impacting the day-to-day work.
I vision organizations where leaders are not afraid to name the change, to acknowledge it is there and to identify what is really happening. Neither are they afraid to address changes, to work through them, to meet them and to consciously monitor change, with the leader being in control of its speed and direction.
I vision organizations where employees are not only able to have ideas, but that they share them and are encouraged to share them. I vision employees being validated for innovation and creative thought and acknowledged for their involvement.
I vision organizations where there are many many leaders. I vision organizations where leaders rise to the challenge whether they have the title or not.
I vision organizations where everyone is invested. People care for and believe in what they are doing.
I vision organizations that work through conflicts. They find alignment in the direction they are going and as such are not afraid of disagreements, challenges or difficult paths.
I vision organizations that flourish, bloom, compete and create things that others never thought possible.
My dream is that others believe in this to and that others create it. I dream that, as more and more people believe this is possible that more and more people create it.
My belief is that by visioning, dreaming, creating, imagining, doing, living and being that these organizations can exist again and again and again.
This dream, this vision, this belief is:
I approach life and I approach day-to-day challenges and opportunities with the belief that it is possible to have a world and to have organizations in which people are connected, people are conscious and people passionate about what they do, where they live, where their children go to school, the earth around them, the air they breathe and about other people.
From this place I am able to sit down at my computer, pick up the phone, go to an event, write and do my work, knowing that others believe this is possible; knowing that others are creating this same vision as I.
Special Note: My company is called Silver River Coaching. The Silver River is the Milky Way Galaxy. It reminds me that we should always be reaching for the stars!
I lead a full life full of love, adventure and growth. Check out my latest thoughts here.
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