One of the most common things I get asked about leadership is “how do you know what to do when?” Leadership is complex in that there’s no recipe to do it well. It’s like nailing jello to a wall. In part, that’s why leadership is so difficult for so many; they want to follow a formula, when in fact it’s far more art than it is science. Luckily, there is a straightforward trick that can help us be a better version of the leader that we want to be.
We all have things we want to be as people and leaders, but we stumble. We fall short. We want to be caring, humble, intelligent, thoughtful, generous with time, see the best in people, keep our negative emotions in check and the seemingly endless list goes on. But we mess up. It’s hard to check off every box on that list. That’s a long list of things that we need to keep straight.
In the heat of the moment, it can be hard to figure out which of these things we need to do and what the situation dictates. It seems that we become fixated on doing one thing well, and simultaneously we end up losing progress in three for four other areas. More often than not, we find ourselves dissecting the situation after criticizing ourselves for not doing this better or that better. It can be demoralizing and can lead us down a path of self-doubt.
Equally tough is trying to emulate all of the attributes we see in the various leaders that we admire. We’ve all been around people that are stuck trying to be someone else. We see this with young professionals in their first jobs trying to do what they read or heard about good executives doing when they were in college. We see this when someone gets promoted to a new job and they’re trying to put all of the leadership books they read to use. The problem is that they come off as robotic and insincere. It just looks uncomfortable. These folks have no idea who they are, and the more they try to be someone else, the more it comes off as clunky and confused.
Respecting one’s leadership and certain behaviors is obviously well and good. But we can’t spend our lives trying to be someone else. That’s not authentic or sincere. Our teams will see right through it. No one wants to follow that. No one is inspired by that. You can tell when someone isn’t being real or is trying to be someone else: but how do you improve yourself without striving to be someone that you admire or want to emulate? How can we most efficiently and effectively become the people we want to be; that we need to be. The people that our families deserve and that our teams need?
The best solutions are typically the simplest, and that’s just what we should do here. Ask yourself what you’d admire if you were on the other side of the table. What would make you want to follow someone? What would make you respect someone. In whatever situation you’re in, do that. You’ll always know the answer.
We need to be ourselves. We need to act as the leader that we ourselves would admire. Stop chasing what we think people we idolize would do – do what we know how to do, and do it well. It’s a simple parameter within which to act and operate. Constantly ask yourselves, what can I do here that I would respect and admire?
This helps us to be a better version of ourselves and to be a better leader for those we impact. This question – constantly at the forefront of our thought isn’t confusing. You won’t be combing through a laundry list of character traits and trying to figure out which one to apply in which setting.
And guess what? Pretty soon, that person we respect. The person we admire. That’s us. That’s how we change our behavior. The transformation to being an effective leader is not one that happens overnight. In fact, it’s not one that’s ever complete. It’s an endless quest. But with each passing day, as we add small wins here and there, we can make a radical impact on our lives and our ability to lead. Don’t waste time; get started now.