Much has been written about effective leadership. Based on our years of experience working with some of the country’s top executives, entrepreneurs and business owners, we’ve determined that great leadership begins with something that’s almost counter-intuitive. It starts with self-awareness. You need to know yourself as fully as possible – what you think and how you feel, combined with paying attention to what you do.
Pay Attention To What You’re Doing
Self-awareness begins when you start paying attention to the things that trigger both your productive behaviors and your unproductive behaviors. For example, some people’s unproductive behavior is triggered by the time of day or certain kinds of people. One leader we know became irritable like clockwork every day around 3:00 PM. If her team met around that time, they could count on her being sarcastic and unreceptive to their ideas. Her employees coped by making jokes about “the three o’clock monster.” It wasn’t until a brave colleague approached her about her mid-afternoon drop in civility that she learned to avoid scheduling meetings at that time and to take a 10-minute break for some deep breathing and a healthy snack.
Noticing patterns is another form of self-awareness. Patterns are thoughts, feelings, or actions that you repeat over and over, as if on “autopilot,” in response to certain situations. Some patterns may work well for you as a leader; for example, when interviewing job candidates, you always make a point of sharing your values and asking about theirs. When your values and those of a promising candidate are aligned, you get a jump start on emotional bonding with a likely new team member. When you’re aware of successful patterns, you can expand their use to other situations where they may have even more impact.
You should also notice the patterns that don’t work so well. None of us is perfect. We all get trapped in unproductive patterns at some point in our lives. Certain patterns may once have been positive, helping you accomplish important goals earlier in your life or leadership roles. But as you grew and developed, they became negative or limiting. Below are three questions you can ask yourself to try to identify negative patterns.
- What did I do in my past that seemed to be working well but isn’t working well now?
- In what areas could I be more effective as a leader?
- What might be holding me back?
Decide To Adopt New Behaviors
Recognizing your patterns and behaviors is just the beginning. As a leader, it’s important to adopt new ways of acting that counter unproductive patterns. Start by thinking of the term “behavior” in a broad sense. Your behavior consists not only of actions others can see, such as speaking kindly to a follower but of your private thoughts, such as “I’d like to spend more time coaching my new employee.” Psychologists often refer to thinking as “cognitive behavior.”
With that in mind, here are three practices that can help you transform an unproductive pattern:
- Envision your ideal day or optimal situation.
- Define what you would do differently to have an ideal day or situation.
- Identify incremental steps you could take that would contribute to an ideal day or optimal situation.
Demonstrating New Behaviors Takes Time
As you start to practice a new behavior, keep this in mind: Changing your behavior is not an easy task. That means accepting that you won’t always have an ideal day or get the results you ideally want in certain situations. But you’re more likely to be successful if you take an incremental approach. Also, if you remain committed to acting in ways that support your current purpose, values, and goals, we’re confident you’ll have more good days than bad. And you’ll achieve better results as a leader than ever.
Give Those You Influence A Chance To Change Their Behavior
Once you’ve established new ways of leading and communicated with your team your desire to make any needed changes, it’s time to encourage them to follow your example. Share your journey. Encourage them to be self-reflective and determine how they can improve their own behavior. Your new behavior will affect how others act, but rarely will it result in an instant change on the part of your followers. This step is often the most challenging for leaders to adopt for several reasons. First, it may take some time for those you hope to influence to trust that you’re committed to the behavioral changes you promise. Followers may understandably assume that your changes are only temporary, much like the New Year’s resolutions that fall by the wayside after just a few weeks. Followers may hesitate to get on board with your changes for fear that your “new and improved” leadership approach won’t last.
Second, remember that you have had much more time to prepare for your change than your followers. Be patient. Give your people time to accept and adapt to the changes you are making in your leadership behavior.
Finally, when you communicate about change, it’s helpful to repeat your intentions often—announcing a change in your leadership approach once is far from enough. Many leaders over-rely on a single email announcing a change, only to be disappointed that followers did not respond to the message as we’d hoped. You will likely need to use multiple forms of communication for many months to reinforce your message of change.
As a leader, you’re influencing people constantly, whether you intend to or not. You need to ensure that your actions are consistent with our intentions. managing your behavior—doing what you intend to do—begins with self-awareness. It’s almost counterintuitive that to build a great relationship with or influence others, the person you must pay the most attention to is yourself.
Written by Doug Lennick.
Have you read?
How to Think Future-Forward in Your Succession Planning Strategy by Drew McLellan.
Five Culture Keys to Unlocking Innovation that Drives Diversity and Performance by Bertina Ceccarelli.
Taming the Impact of Inflation – How to Drive Customer Experience Efficiency by Joseph A. Michelli.
6 ways self-disruption makes you a better leader by Anne Duggan and Dr Jefferson Yu-Jen Chen.
You Can Do Better Than Brainstorming by Robin Landa.
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