There’s been plenty to have an opinion about in 2020. We watched unprecedented disasters, calamities, social conflicts, and crises challenge leaders at all levels and in different areas of society. It’s a pretty good seat to offer judgment – as the onlooker.
It’s the same phenomenon as each of us becoming a professional coach for whichever sport we are passionate about. We know they should’ve called this play, or pulled this player, or gone for this shot/pass/play. We become the expert from the comfort of our couch, confident that we would have done this differently – better. Any reasonable person realizes there’s no way to know that.
Given the mounting pressures and challenges that those in leadership positions bear, it’s important to remind ourselves of the complexities of leadership. In addition, we can’t expect a certain standard for others that we don’t hold for ourselves – especially if we are in the position of leading others.
That’s not to say poor leadership should be excused or accepted. It shouldn’t. However, we must look at how we can positively impact our personal spheres of influence – in our families, communities, businesses, and society. As Leo Tolstoy, the Russian novelist famously wrote, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Where we can, we should seek to promote true leadership – especially in ourselves.
What You May Not Want to See – But Need to See
Do you exhibit the leadership qualities you expect from others? That may be a tall order, so here’s another question to ponder, do you strive to exhibit the leadership qualities you expect from others? To honestly answer that question, we must be honest with ourselves. Many leaders have a skewed perception of how others see them, which often leads to ineffective interactions and diminished morale and productivity. Until they are aware of their behaviors, as well as how others perceive them, they can’t fully contribute to the organizational goals and objectives.
How Are Leaders Judged?
The definition of leadership is bound to differ from one individual to another – each basing their description and expectations on personal experience. However, there are common criteria that most agree leaders should excel at. Consider your leadership skills in each of the following areas:
- Communication: Displays effective oral, written, and listening skills with individuals and groups.
- Decision Making: Employs sound judgment, logical reasoning, and uses resources wisely.
- Motivation: Inspires, motivates, and guides others toward goals and objectives.
- Planning: Develops detailed, executable plans that are feasible, acceptable, and actionable.
- Execution: Shows proficiency, meets standards, and provides sufficient resources consistent with goals and objectives.
- Assessment: Uses evaluation tools to promote consistent employee improvement.
- Development: Invests adequate time and effort to develop individuals to be leaders themselves.
- Builder: Fosters an ethical climate by spending time and resources improving teams, groups, and units.
- Learning: Seeks self-improvement as well as continual personal and professional development.
- Adaptability: Adjusts leadership methods to changing conditions, climate and opportunities.
Have you considered your approach in each of these areas? What if you periodically looked at these areas imagining how your peers would rate you in each one? What if you actually asked your peers to evaluate you in these different areas? The results would be eye-opening in some cases, understood in others, but helpful in every way.
Getting Past Our Downfalls
No one is perfect; all leaders are fallible. Just as there are top criteria for evaluating the effectiveness of a leader, there are also what I call “the derailers.” These are behaviors or habits that get in the way of progress and limit our ability to be effective. Derailers are characteristics that, unfortunately, others tend to focus on. These are the traits we zone in on with our own leaders. These are the “blind spots” that can get in the way of individuals gaining greater clarity in how to improve themselves. Common derailers include:
- Lacks Focus: Easily distracted and undisciplined
- Untrustworthy: Violates and/or comprises others’ trust
- Not a Team Player: Personal agenda first
- Micromanager: Overly controlling and doesn’t empower others with latitude (“My way or the highway.”)
- Volatile: Loses patience and temper easily
- Aloof: Distant and unapproachable
- Arrogant: Egotistical and displays a strong sense of entitlement
- Close-Minded: Not open to new ideas or critical of feedback
- Lacks Transparency: Opaque in words and actions
- Over Complicated: Turns the simple into the incomprehensible
- Eager to Please: Overly concerned with being accepted and liked
- Perfectionist: “Being perfect is the enemy of very good.
- Complacent: Stagnant and avoids opportunities for personal growth
Having the Emotional Intelligence to Become a Better Leader
Being willing to be vulnerable, honest, and responsible for who you are and how you interact with others starts you on a path to greater emotional intelligence. The dictionary simply defines emotional intelligence as a “skill in perceiving, understanding, and managing emotions and feelings.” Wikipedia, which quotes from Andrew Coleman’s A Dictionary of Psychology, expands on this a bit more, “Emotional intelligence (EI) or emotional quotient (EQ) is the capability of individuals to recognize their own, and other people’s emotions, to discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and to manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt environments or achieve one’s goal(s).”
EI is a necessary component of effective leadership. Without it, you will not have the awareness or humility needed to improve. There are many publications that have addressed the idea that perhaps EI is more important than one’s IQ. That is certainly a debatable point depending on the context. However, it’s important to understand that the “skills” that contribute to one’s EI, are all incredibly important in dealing with people; these include, self-awareness, self-regulation/management, social skills, empathy, and motivation/passion.
We can’t change a coach’s decision from our couch – or any number of other choices made by leaders around us. However, we can change and control the kind of leader we will be in our personal and professional lives. When you commit to improving yourself, you inspire others to do the same. The more effective leaders we have in our communities, the better off we will all be.