As a chief people officer, I’ve coached leaders for many years, and I always ask, “Do you want to be a great leader…or do you want your team to be led by a great leader?” Granted, they sound very similar, but the slight difference leads to very different results.
A lot of great organizations, training companies, and consultants teach leaders what they should do to get better results. That’s important — but it’s not enough.
Real leadership improvement starts with the way we see things. Our mindsets and paradigms can be accurate, limited or flat-out wrong, and if we don’t occasionally assess their veracity, we’ll be stuck spinning our wheels when effect growth as leaders.
People want to be inspired by their bosses and to win at what they’re doing. And nobody takes on a leadership role not wanting to be successful. But to be the great leader for your team that they truly deserve, might require a mindset adjustment.
Take a moment to think through these key leadership paradigms. Could you use an adjustment?
1. Be sure you’re viewing your role through the right lens
If you wake up in the morning intending to be a great leader, you might accomplish a few productive things for your team and organization. But if you wake up wanting your team to be led by a great leader, then you’re looking through the lens of your team, not just what you can accomplish. You’re asking, what does Aaron need today to reach his full potential? How can you remove this roadblock for Stephanie? Lee seems disengaged — how can you surface what’s going on?
In the process, you become a great leader, but that’s the end-all, be-all. The focus must be kept on what your team needs from their leader every day so they can achieve great results.
Unfortunately, adopting this mindset is not a one-and-done thing. I’ve been in leadership for a long time, and I very sincerely admit I have to remind myself every morning that it’s not about me. It’s about them. I’ve run my marathon, and now I’m helping them train, win, and beat their own times.
2. Challenge your mindset around feedback
Too many leaders think that to be credible, they have to know everything. Not true. To be credible, you have to be vulnerable and let your team know you’re learning right along with them. Make it safe for your team to give you feedback on how to improve.
Don’t put them on the spot, but in your next 1-on-1, you might say something like, “I’d love for you to feel comfortable sharing some things I can do better as a leader. I’m not fishing for compliments. I’d love to know what’s working, but I really want to know something I can do better.”
When you receive the feedback, be careful not to fall into the trap of the poser: people who pretend to want feedback when they really want validation. They’re hoping to hear how great they did on their presentation or how much you appreciated the report they wrote or the sale they made. When you ask your team for feedback, you have to be willing to do something different or you’ll end up damaging your credibility instead.
3. Look at problems arise
When we’re stymied by a challenging situation, differentiating between facts and opinions can help us open up to new paradigms and solutions.
If you have a situation that’s not going well — maybe a contentious relationship with a team member or a project going off the rails — list all the reasons why you think things aren’t happening the way you think they should. Now go through that list, and circle which statements are facts. You’ll probably notice that very few of them are. Then identify the ones that are opinions. Are any of them worth investigating to see if they’re accurate?
I once had the paradigm that an employee wasn’t competent and was causing everyone else to pick up the slack. When I went through this exercise, I realized, Wait a minute, is she really lazy, or does she not understand how to do this part of her job? Have I taken the time to find out what’s really meaningful work for this person?
Eventually, I realigned her with projects she found more exciting, challenging, and useful to the team. And boy, this person was anything but lazy. Thank goodness I checked that paradigm, or I would have missed out on a hidden top performer.
I believe the real key that differentiates great leaders is their continued work on their mindsets because what we see determines everything we do, and ultimately, the results that we achieve.