As an executive coach, I have the privilege of working with successful leaders to assist them in continuing their personal and professional development. One of the areas of focus that appears quite often is that the leader is unaware of how their actions, communication and tone impact the team in a negative way. Most of the time, when I ask how they developed their leadership style, the answer centers around their previous leaders and how they began to emulate them regardless of whether it felt comfortable or not. They felt the need to mimic these attributes in order to be successful, and nobody informed them otherwise.
Now imagine working for a leader who has no awareness of how they present themselves or how to lead differently than what they have witnessed for 20-plus years. It's not easy to create new habits when they have been employed for a long period of time, and it gets even tougher to change when it's all they know.
I am a huge sports fan, and even though I have lived in Los Angeles for the majority of my life, I am dedicated to my Cleveland teams. While my children have been able to celebrate multiple championships, I have only my one title in 2016. I mention this because I look at it through the same lens as the leaders I'm describing. I was taught early on by my family, neighbors and others around me to be a loyal fan regardless of the outcome, so it's all I knew while growing up. Many a day I dream of what it would be like to have grown up in the Boston area with the Celtics, Red Sox and Patriots, but let's get back to the topic at hand.
In order to break the cycle and become a self-aware leader, here are some steps I employ with my leaders when they want to implement a path to show up as their authentic selves and unleash their full potential.
1. Ask yourself, “What are your strengths and are you employing them consistently?” This is a question I pose to leaders. The responses I receive are usually that while they are confident of their strengths, they admit they are not consistent in practicing them on a daily basis. When challenged further to list out their strengths, most will have difficulty or will list the strengths they feel they should put down because, once again, they feel that is what they need to be successful from previous experiences. Take the time to truly understand your strengths as a leader and then map out a game plan on how you want to implement them to enhance your success with your team. Be specific in your actions and how you will measure yourself. If you need assistance in identifying your strengths, there are several assessments to help you; I would utilize Gallup's CliftonStrengths (paid service) or a similar application in these instances, which can give you an objective roadmap. 2. Engage stakeholders for input. This one will take courage and humility as a leader. It can be your greatest asset when it comes to understanding how you show up and the impact it has on your team. Your stakeholders can be made up of your direct reports, the leaders you report to and other individuals who depend on your effectiveness as a leader. There will be some feedback that will be positive and then the golden nuggets of opportunity that will give you the gift of awareness. You will need to set the stage in an objective manner so your team will give you open and honest input. Ensure that you communicate the value of their feedback and that you will update them on your progress. The most successful leaders I have seen in this area come back to their team on a consistent basis each quarter and update the stakeholders on their progress — keeping them engaged and part of the process.
3. Make sure your time dedicated to reflection is consistent. This is the most crucial piece of the process. After they understand their strengths and receive input from their stakeholders, this is where I see leaders lose steam, so you will need to be dedicated. Set time aside on a weekly basis (30 minutes) to journal specifically how you did in terms of your opportunity areas as a leader. All too often, leaders either don't want to look inside objectively, or other things end up taking priority over their own development as a leader. Make sure to be consistent in this area, and as mentioned above, to update your stakeholders.
Have questions prepared that gauge your self-awareness, such as: • How did I show up this week as a leader? • What strengths did I employ consistently? • What needs my attention for next week to set myself up for success?
Becoming a self-aware leader is a gift that too few take advantage of in the workplace. Set the example for your team and display the humility to look inside so you can understand how you show up as well as the tone you set for your team. The steps listed above are not easy, and you will have to be objective, open and consistent with this process. Successful leaders whom I work with who have employed these techniques have taken their leadership to new heights, and I hope it does the same for this audience. But when it comes to sports, I will still be a diehard Cleveland fan as it is my burden to carry.