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The Uncomfortable Nature of Great Leadership

Leadership Implies Change

To me, the very essence of leadership is creating something better. Making what better? A better future, usually. The question I always ask of leaders is "What will be better in the world because you ...?" Better in the world because you led this team at this time, or launched this initiative, or took on this role, or reorganized this function. Making things better - whether it's a better culture, a better customer experience, a better/faster/cheaper process, better employee engagement - means change.

A well-defined "better" provides a direction, and a reason to go with you in that direction. Nothing gets better until people do something differently. For big changes, that means a lot of people, across an organization, time after time and day after day, doing something different. Making something better. And if you study workforce trends or engagement, like I do, isn't that what talented people want, in order to feel engaged and commited?

So asking people to change is a core task of leaders. But it may not be the most difficult task. The most difficult may be the necessity of asking ourselves, the leaders, to change. Yes. If we want to make things better in our organizations, that means we must change, too.

If I'm Going to Lead Change, I Need to Look at Myself

Or maybe better said, we must change first. People will follow us when they see us acting with authenticity and integrity - aligned with our business direction. If I want to create a more transparent organization, how will I make a habit of being more transparent in how I lead? If I am leading an innovation team, how will I find ways to hear and give voice to more diverse, novel perspectives and ideas? If I can't practice, or even just experiment with, leading in ways aligned with the direction I'm espousing, I don't have a chance at creating real, deep, and lasting change in my organization. Now we're getting to the uncomfortable part.

How You Show Up and How You Spend Your Time is How You Lead

So, what shall I change, in myself, to be a better leader? I say it starts with self-examination. My calendar is a good place to start. If I spend all my time in meetings that are not aligned with my priorities, I'm not leading those priorities. If I don't make (and hold sacred) time to think strategically, to learn all perspectives and impacts of the system I'm trying to change, to develop relationships with those who's partnership I need for my change to succeed, I'm not leading. Looking at myself to see how I can improve is risky. I may well find something I don't want to face.

Yep, it's getting uncomfortable right here. I might need to say no (or later) to my boss, to a standing meeting where I have no real role, to a project that gives me good optics but isn't adding lasting value. Taking a hard, objective look my calendar reveals what actually matters to me. And sometimes, what I see is that what matters to me is to remain, well, comfortable. Or to not rock the boat. Or to maintain some reputation I think I should have. Or avoid difficult conversations.

I am making the choice for my own comfort when I wear my busy-ness as a badge of honor and allow my calendar to fill up with unimportant activities or things better delegated to someone who could learn from the stretch assignment. Especially when that leaves me with no good energy to do the hard and more critical influencing work needed to advance my strategic direction.

This is the kind of self-reflection needed to become great leader. Or even a good leader, in a difficult situation.

It's All About Seeing Yourself: Your Actions and The Reactive Thinking Behind Them

Maybe being safe and predictable is what really matters when I keep having the same update meeting every week but I don't speak up about why I think the project is really off-track. Maybe I'm actually more concerned with making sure everything is done perfectly, rather than empowering people, when I am reviewing work done two levels below me. Taking on more than my team can handle might reveal my hidden attachment to the appearance of running a "highly productive team." But maybe that's getting in the way of allowing my people to work on the things they see as important to our direction. This is what I have to consider if I am really committed to leading something that matters. To doing the things that really matter.

Leading Requires the Courage to Move Beyond Personal Discomfort

The calendar examination I suggest scratches the surface of the self-awareness needed to be a great leader. Setting aside the time for reflection, getting input and feedback from others, and coaching all help. Getting really clear on what really matters to you provides the courageous energy needed to propel you beyond the comfortable and familiar habits into greatness.

A deeper look, such as can be revealed through a coaching process or a 360º assessment that looks at your inner game - your level of consciousness - is even better. The Leadership Circle Profile™ is my personal favorite to use with execs I'm coaching or advising through change - it gets right to the habits of mind that hold us back. What I learned from my own profile led to me playing much bigger and better than I thought possible. Not an easy or safe path, but a powerful one.

If you'd like to explore ways to develop your own leadership self-awareness, get in touch for a free 20-minute initial consultation.

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