When I think of all that I have learned from reading leadership books, all that I have heard from leaders that I (and others) respect, all that I have experienced in my life (as a leader and as a follower when others are leading), I realize that, although the vision of what a great leader is may differ from person to person, we can likely agree that a great leader is someone who people believe in and want to follow.
I suspect that many of us wake up each day and want to be somewhat better off than we were yesterday: we all likely want some improvements in our lives--our relationships, ourselves, our finances, our physical fitness. (If you wake up and want to be worse off each day, you should likely stop reading this article now.)
To that end, this article explores what I hope will help us grow as leaders. Although certainly not an exhaustive list, these four suggestions will get us started:
Learn what most people need to be successful at work: most of us will likely agree that four aspects of our work are important.
Explore how you are perceived by others: To grow as leaders, we need to have awareness about ourselves as we are seen by others, and so leaders should continuously seek feedback.
Ponder your strengths and consider your areas of opportunity: Once we have an awareness of how others perceive our leadership, we can consider what is working and what we might want to adjust.
Seek resources to develop yourself: Although some of our growth can occur just by us wanting to change, we may also need some resources to assist us.
Learn what most people need to be successful at work
Since great leaders are likely addressing the basic needs of their followers most of the time, let's consider four areas of basic need that most followers likely want for their leaders to foster:
- A sense of belonging to the group/organization: Think of a group in which you truly fit in, a group that gave you the sense that you were part of their team, a group that welcomed you for who you are. What senses did you have in (or now that you are thinking about) that group: security, safety, involvement, liveliness, excitement, connection, motivation, warmth, hope, energy, comfort, satisfaction?
What if you think of a time when you didn't get the sense that you belonged to a group or organization? What thoughts and senses did you have: apprehension, mistrust, impatience, unease, dislike, loss, detachment, trouble, self-consciousness, exhaustion, loneliness, depression, discouragement, anxiety, insecurity, doubt?
When I think of times in my life that I belonged or didn't belong, I have strong feelings in both cases. But I greatly prefer the sense of belonging--and I suspect that most of us also prefer being connected with others.
- A feeling of being appreciated: What would our work be like if we never received any appreciation? What if our bosses, our colleagues, our significant others, our families, and our friends never appreciated anything that we did? How motivated would you be to keep doing your work?
Not everyone, not every time, but with great regularity, many of us need some hint (or blatant praise to indicate) that our work is important, that what we do does make a difference.
- A feeling of being involved in meaningful work: Similar to appreciation, meaning is important for many of us. How tedious would our work feel, even if we did receive appreciation for it, if that work was useless; if, at the end of each day, our work were just thrown in the trash; or if others told us that what we do is pointless? How long would you be able to keep working on that "pointless" work?
- A sense of influence over (and input into) the things that directly affect them: The word autonomy comes to my mind as an important value for me, but even if autonomy isn't important to everyone, many of us likely still want to have a say--a voice--in our work, in any changes that affect us, and in any priorities that are important to us.
The alternative seems miserable: no sense of influence, no say--or worse--no knowledge of those things that may or will affect us. Have you ever worked for a micromanager--no fun?
As I reflect on research from HR courses that I've taken and on the conclusions of a particular leader that I respect (Harold D. Craft, a former VP and CFO at Cornell University), most team members in just about any organization would likely agree that those needs are important--and maybe even necessary--in order for individuals (and teams) to be engaged at work.
Explore how you are perceived by others:
To grow as leaders, we need to have awareness about how others perceive us: to learn what needs we are addressing well and what needs we may be overlooking.
Agreed: we need to know how we are perceived by others. But how do we know that we are getting the truth? Have you ever gotten the sense that your direct reports (or their direct reports) are only telling you what is going well and are trying to conceal what is not working well?
Ask people that you trust: Although you may be creating the right environment, some folks may still be hesitant, and so I suggest that you seek out those who you really trust, at work and outside of work. Get people to give you the hard truths.
Ponder your strengths and consider your areas of opportunity:
Once we have an awareness of how others perceive our leadership, we can consider what is working and what we might want to adjust.
Our strengths: Much has been written about leveraging our strengths (e.g., Strengths Finder), and so I will only offer one thought here: celebrate what you've done well. Truly take a moment to be proud of what you are doing well, to fully absorb the positive impact that you have had. I make that suggestion because, if you are like many of us, you skip right over what you are doing well and look for what you need to do differently--"Where did I mess up and how can I fix it!?" It is almost as if we have a need to be perfect, and in pursuing that elusive perfection, we miss out on the joy that we have earned.
Our opportunities: Ah, yes, the areas that we simultaneously relish in working to eliminate and despise, due to our need for perfection. Thus, I have another suggestion: try to identify trends based on the data that you've collected (from one-on-one conversations, from 360 feedback, and from other sources). Then, choose only a couple of those trends as opportunities for growth. Once you select your top one or two opportunities, create a plan to address those areas.
Seek resources to develop yourself:
As you seek to address your areas of opportunity or just develop yourself in general, consider what you need to make progress. Do you need a mentor, a leadership coach, a written plan, some books, or other resources for inspiration and ideas?
Or might you benefit from attending a leadership training, a corporate retreat, or a management retreat? Workshops offer an opportunity to meet (and develop relationships) with other leaders, to learn and apply some leadership models, and to challenge yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally.
I encourage you to seek out whatever resources you need, and I am hopeful that you will make progress on your journey to become a better leader.
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When you are ready to develop yourself or your team, ActiveLeading invites you to learn more about leadership training by reading, by discussing with others your challenges, by posting your reactions to this article, and by attending our management training workshops and corporate team building retreats.