Leadership Do's and Don'ts
The prospect of narrowing down all there is to know about leadership into a few things that work and others that are less successful is not so simple. My leadership "do's and don'ts" come from my own experience of what works and what doesn't.
To appropriately respond requires sharing what is central to leadership for me. Leadership, for me, begins and ends with the leader - who they are and what motivates them to do their work.
Self-awareness is central to being a leader. To be a better leader, you need to know what drives you; not what you should do based on someone else's perspective. Operating from what you are committed to can bring clarity to your goals and conviction in your communications with those you are leading.
If you only half-heartedly believe in what you are trying to get others to sign up for, that is what they will pick up on rather than what you are guiding them to do. If you have positional influence this will get the workforce to show up and maybe even do the work, but you will not have their passion. That is not leading; it is managing.
Passion is where commitment comes from and leads others to care about the work you are sharing with them. Communicating from a clear understanding of why the work matters to you is when the team, business unit, or organization is most likely to give the best they have to offer. That is when you are leading.
Use the tools available to know yourself better
There are numerous ways leaders can better understand what they are passionate about in the workplace. No one way is the best. In my research, the most mature organization provides its workforce and leaders with multiple resources to evaluate their leadership capabilities.
The prominent place to start is with the DISC model. It provides insight into your workplace leadership style and how you approach getting things done, teaming, your leadership strengths, and why it might seem difficult to lead some more than others. It can also help you build an effective workplace communication model.
Don't stop with DISC.
Embrace feedback from your team, even if it makes your skin crawl hearing what others have to say about you. Remember that their DISC styles may be quite different from yours, so what they say is partially self-referential. Please take it in because it is fundamental to them and affects how well you can influence them in joining with you in leading the organization forward in whatever small or large way you are seeking.
There are numerous tools and surveys that your organization may use. If you have access to them, then, by all means, use them. You should because it allows you to know yourself and the people you are seeking to lead better.
Some of the latest AI tools, like Cultivate, provide a private report on your email traffic. For example, it can tell you that you regularly provide one person on your team with positive feedback but do not do so for other team members. Knowing this information can test assumptions that you are making about how well you communicate with your team and help you make changes to your behavior.
The pace of business makes it hard to stop and think. Action is what most of us equate with work; not sitting still. To lead, you need a perspective that you fully understand and have pushed the boundaries.
Again, you can use DISC as instrumental support. By understanding your DISC profile and leadership style, you are likely aware of whether you prefer to immediately share your perspective and ideas or make decisions, as "I" or “D” style people do, versus "C" or “S” style people who want to observe and self-test before sharing.
Whatever your DISC style, reflecting on your leadership and purpose is required to make the most significant impact. Clarity enables conviction within yourself and connection to others.
Create and adjust
When you are working with your team and trying out new ways of leading them, don't expect immediate success. When you change how you operate with your team, they may be wary of the new approach you take with them.
You can almost see them thinking, "Ok, what business book did the boss read this month?"
Be transparent with your team about what you are doing differently and why. The more questions they raise, the better you can adjust your approach to their needs. When informed, they can debate and push back, which further clarifies your leadership approach instead of making it a thin veneer covering of how you operated in the past.
When you learn something new about how you lead that makes a difference to your team, keep track of it. The best way to do so is to repeat the approach to intentionally and continuously utilize the insight. Just because you learned something once does not guarantee you will do it again if faced with a similar or even the same problem.
From a neuroscience perspective, when we are stressed, distracted, or short of time, our brain seeks shortcuts. Our hindbrain takes over and looks for what we are comfortable with rather than what our forebrain might recommend. If you have ever found yourself repeating something you told yourself you would not do again, blame the hindbrain.
The way to beat falling back to old routines and reinforce the new practice is by making fresh thinking your default. Challenge yourself to think of ways to make the new neural pathway your brain's favorite choice.
Simple ways to do this are:
- Share what you have learned
- Compare to the old method and define why the new way is better
- Write about it
- Draw it
Be creative and have fun describing your leadership insight. The more ways you can express your new way of behaving, your new leadership habits will hold.
Don't miss the cues
Your team is telling you about themselves all the time. The leverage point is to look for cues behind the organizational and ecosystem structure your team is driven by. In most cases, how the team is operating has nothing to do with you and more to do with what they are being asked to do, given their resources and the structural elements that enable and disable their actions.
To capture how these obstructions affect your ability to lead, pay attention to what they are doing, why they are doing so, and what they would likely do. These three factors allow you to understand how your team responds to you and why they work the way they do.
Please don't assume it's them
When you are frustrated because no matter what you try to do the team is still not following your lead, do not blame the team. (See the first "Do" on knowing yourself.)
Don't get down on yourself because you are not perfect
Leadership is guided by a person driven by a conviction and passion for a given approach to getting something done with others. Based on this definition, it starts and ends with people. The leader's conviction and passion are their own.
Your team has freedom of choice and can follow you as they choose to or not. Meaning, your staff may, or may not, be fully aligned and excited about what you are proposing at any given time. You should still be honest with yourself and your team about where you are leading them and not worry if everyone is excited to join you.
The longer you are true to your convictions and passions, the longer the team can judge for themselves if your approach is worth committing to. Take your time with them and allow them the choice to follow you, and don't get down on yourself if your strategy, execution, or result is not perfect. In reality, it may never be.
Be the best leader you can be by being the best self you know how to be.
There are purposefully more "do's than don'ts" because focusing on not doing something is not as powerful as operating more effectively by doing something. Enjoy the process of learning about yourself, what drives your team to act the way they do, and operate from a compelling vision of where you see the team moving forward with you.
As a leader, having self-awareness of your leadership strengths is essential. The PeopleKeys® DISC Leadership assessment gives you a snapshot of your DISC leadership style so you can have an open window to understanding yourself and how you can be a more effective leader to your team.