So you want to become a better leader, manager or supervisor [part 1]
As we know through experience, managing and leading is not easy, in fact depending on who you speak to, you’ll be given some variation on the theme of leadership and managing people being one of the most challenging roles in the world, but as John G Agno says “Leadership development is self-development.”
The fact is that we as human beings are complex, so anything that involves managing us will have complexity. Many of the managers and leaders that I’ve spoken to or developed have expressed that they find it difficult and many potential managers have expressed that they would prefer not to have to manage or lead at all.
Fact; there is no perfect formula for leading and managing. Becoming an effective leader is a journey, and it’s certainly not a short one, the fact is that it’s a lifelong journey of learning and reflection. I suspect that many aspiring leaders expect that they will wake up after attending a leadership development programme and just be a leader; in fact I’ve coached aspiring managers who have expressed dismay over the fact that despite having been ‘trained, they are struggling in their role as supervisor, manager or leader. You can learn a lot on courses but that’s just the beginning, the real work, the journey continues long after.
So what is this real work? It’s the ‘self’ work, the never ending but endlessly rewarding homework that strengthens you at your core. As they say in the fitness world, a strong core makes it easier for everything else that you do to fall into place.
What follows are 3 vital areas based on my experience as a leader, coach and mentor:
Critical self reflection
This is THE most important ability. Full stop. For me it is absolutely vital and comes before anything else. Here’s why. This is how you get to know yourself, where you face yourself….your whole self, your shadow self…the good, the bad and the ugly. This is where you ‘own’ you, honestly and without pretence. This is where you explore your motivations, assumptions, triggers, biases, and values; the things that make you angry, happy, jealous etc.. It is only by truly fostering this relationship with yourself that you’ll be able to effectively manage relationships with others, especially in a leadership/management role and critical self-reflection enables this ongoing relationship. Reflection is considered to be a vital component of Emotional intelligence, defined as “The ability to monitor ones own and others feelings and emotions, to discriminate amongst them and to use this information to guide ones thinking and actions”. Mayer and Salovey, 1990.
This is another vital quality the ability to understand the needs of others; being aware of someone else’s feelings can give you better insight into their behaviour. Empathy is not an easy quality to develop, but it is a powerful one, as it can help us to understand and explore issues within our teams. Whenever I’m facilitating or coaching a manager I’m known for saying “just take a moment and put yourself in their shoes” or “imagine if someone spoke to you like that …how would you react?” Although it is a basic part of our humanity, developing empathy takes effort and commitment.
One of the easiest ways to develop more empathy is to learn the art of ‘active listening’; when we actively listen, we pick up on so much such as the persons tone of voice, their body language, their facial expressions which can give us more insight into what they are really saying. Empathy allows leaders to engage with their teams as human beings.
I’m also going to say that the ability to practice self empathy is important as well. Self empathy reminds us as leaders that we are human, and that our reactions are coloured by feelings and emotions too, and it is when we reflect that we have the opportunity to see how certain events have affected us and possibly triggered our responses and behaviours. The most compelling leaders are those that accept that they are fallible, just like those they lead.
No matter where you look, one of the big talking points when it comes to leadership and what we want form leaders is honesty. This desire for honesty is a global, and is repeated in study after study. Let’s bring it back to us, put simply, people respond better to leaders who have integrity and are honest, keeping to their word, not making false promises and being able to say when they can’t divulge information. If you can’t do something, just say so, if you forget to do something, own up to it, say sorry, be a human leader.
In part 2 I’ll discuss some more vital development areas.