Happy New Year!
Whether in my coaching practice, in my job, or in my relationships, I’m continually on the lookout for ways to build my leadership capability. As we head into the new year, I’m taking this time to reflect on what has worked and not worked for me over the last 365 days and offer some ideas for anyone looking for skills that will improve how they show up as leaders. Make resolutions to get better at the following skills, and I bet by the end of 2019, you’ll be much more satisfied with yourself as a leader.
Be Authentic: Act in a way that honors what’s important to you.
This past year has been a practice in exploring what I want; a novel concept for me. I had always considered myself to be “authentic,” but I think I was equating authenticity with honesty. I‘ve since realized that being authentic is impossible if I don’t know what’s most important to me. When you act with authenticity, you communicate with ease, your interactions are more meaningful, and you express confidence. What’s more, it builds trust with those around you, contributing to a more positive workplace and more influence as a leader.
Be Vulnerable: Don’t be afraid to be afraid.
Different from showing weakness, expressing vulnerability is the art of being forthcoming about your insecurities, questions, doubts, and the problems that you experience. Similar to authenticity, showing vulnerability emphasizes your humanity and creates a sense of commonality with your coworkers. I used to live by the mantra “Don’t complain, don’t explain” thinking that by being impenetrable I was showing strength and resilience. That may have been the case decades ago, but now it makes you seem like an unfeeling robot. Nobody likes people who come off as being “perfect.” Sharing just a little bit of your process, your anxieties, your insecurities with coworkers is a powerful way of connecting. Also, it establishes a pattern of openness that can save you from those pesky unforeseen blips in a project and empower your supervisees to come to you with problems quicker.
Manage your emotions: Emotional Intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence (EQ or EI), a term coined by psychologist Daniel Goleman, is an awareness of your emotions and behaviors in social situations and the ability to manage them in productive ways. It comprises Four parts:
- Self-awareness: the ability to identify your emotions
- Self-management: the ability to manage your behavior and reactions
- Social-awareness: the ability to empathize with others
- Relationship management: the ability to interact in ways that promote connection
The first part, self-awareness, is the most important part to me, and no progress can be made without it. How can you manage yourself if you don’t know yourself? So, to that end I make sure to spend time asking myself two simple questions: What am I feeling right now? And why might I be feeling it? I find that this helps me be more present in conversations with coworkers. See how it works for you. Check out some tips for boosting your EQ.
Be Curious: Actively search for alternate perspectives.
Before you criticize or reject, ask an open-ended question. In the professional world, it seems like the emphasis is “being right” or “having all the answers.” I know I certainly was of the belief that I couldn’t ask questions, that it would show too much uncertainty, classically a big no-no in the professional world. But here’s the thing: if everyone thinks they are right, and no one wants to show vulnerability by asking simple questions that start with “How?” or “Why?” or “What?” who is learning anything? More recently, it has become admirable to have the courage to say “I don’t know, let me find that out for you,” or, “I don’t know. What are your thoughts?”
We live in a culture that emphasizes the black and white thinking of “I’m right. You’re wrong.” Before rejecting someone else’s ideas or thoughts, before you trot out the answer you have in your head as 100% right, ask the other person a clarifying question, an open-ended question. Something that will show you what their thinking is and from what perspective they are coming. At the very least, you learn something. At best, you find an answer that blends your two perspectives into something new. Something collaborative.
Organizational psychology luminary Edgar Schein wrote a book called Humble Inquiry that changed everything for me related to asking powerful questions. It’s a very quick read (144 pages), and written beautifully. I highly recommend it for any person in any form of leadership.
Mentor Someone: Share your knowledge.
Taking someone under your wing at the organization can be extremely rewarding for both you and your mentee.
For the mentee, it bolsters their confidence at work, provides a valuable contact and career support structure, and empowers them to be proactive in their career approach.
For the mentor, they can get back in touch with the perspectives and energy of someone who is greener in their career, they can hone their listening skills, and it gives them a sense of giving back to the organization.
Mentorship is leadership practice and it uses all the skills I touched on above. If your organization doesn’t have an official mentoring program established, don’t let that stop you. You can still be a resource for newer staff by simply reaching out to them and offering your support. Better yet, be the one who starts the mentoring program!
What kind of leader do you want to be in 2019? How will you do it?