Start by Leading Yourself
GREAT leadership can be developed with the willingness to change, self-awareness, courage, and a commitment to translate knowledge into action, ideas into habits. Great leadership is all about improving employee performance through setting a compelling vision and guiding people toward it.
We’ve designed a 30-day program with a different focus each week: Leading yourself, leading another, leading a team, and leading change.
You might start from the beginning and follow through with this four-week plan. You might pick one section to work on each month. You might grab days 3, 14, and 19. Or you might skip ahead to leading change if that’s what you’re going through right now.
Some ideas will take an hour, and you can do them on your own. Others will take longer and will involve other people. But just dedicating yourself to becoming a good leader is a start.
WEEK 1: LEADING YOURSELF
Before you can lead others, you must lead yourself. Master these skills this week, and you will be ready to move on to leading someone else.
DAY 1: Assess yourself.
Ask five of your most trusted friends, colleagues, or family members these simple questions: “What are my greatest strengths, where can I improve, and what should I do differently?”
Take two of your strengths and find ways to make them great. Then take two areas that you’re not as good at, and develop action items to improve them.
DAY 2: Manage your priorities.
Before you start each week, schedule your work, not just your meetings. Also, make a list of daily rituals designed to keep your energy at a high
level. (For example, eating right, exercise, sleep, time with a good book, etc.) Include work rituals in this list. (For example, compliment someone on good work, read industry news, or make sure to walk the floor.) Place a checkmark at the end of each day next to those completed activities.
Too often, our calendars get complete with commitments that others ask us to do.
We usually prioritize those first. But the most important things—the things that are more strategic and help us plan for the future—get done second or not at all. By managing your priorities, you can ensure your work takes precedence over other commitments.
DAY 3: Build accountability.
Avoidance zaps us of our ability to take on new commitments.
Develop a list called, “What am I avoiding, what am I not being responsible for, what am I afraid to say, and to whom?” Start by tackling the most straightforward items first.
Dean Newlund, CEO of Mission Facilitators, observed, “Once I’ve completed a task I’ve been avoiding, I am more confident, more energized, and more willing to do more.”
DAY 4: Improve your emotional IQ.
The next time you assess what caused a painful discussion, break it down into three areas: What do I own about this situation? What should they acknowledge? And what perception do they have of me that I still need to manage?
Sometimes we place undue blame on ourselves or the other person. So ask yourself those three questions.
DAY 5: Build confidence.
The next time someone praises you for the work you’ve done, fully accept it and say, “Thank you.”
We often don’t accept praise because we don’t feel like we deserve it. Confident leaders breed confidence in others.
WEEK 2: LEADING ANOTHER
Once you can lead yourself, you are ready to move
to leading another person. It’s important to trust that others can do the work as well as you. This is sometimes easier said than done, especially for new managers. Your team may struggle with getting the job done correctly and helping other team members improve. The key to accomplishing both is mentoring others to do what you do.
DAY 6: Listen for truth.
Consciously choose to be in the moment when you listen to another person. Start with people you find easy to listen to, then graduate to those you shut out. How? Turn off your inner monologue. Focus on the true meaning behind their words. What are they not saying? What do they value most? We can disagree and understand—these aren’t mutually exclusive. However, when you genuinely listen to and understand another person, you create an environment for trust and new ideas.
DAY 7: Get heard.
We each have a preferred way to communicate with others and ways we want others to share with us. In sales, studies have found that if a deal doesn’t go through, it’s not because the product or the service is wrong, but because the salesperson’s style rubbed the customer the wrong way. Flexing our communication style applies to all of us because we’re selling ideas.
Adjust your communication style to match others’ style, so your message isn’t rejected because of your delivery.
This might mean slowing down your speaking, talking about outcomes vs. theories, or maybe adding historical data to a PowerPoint presentation. This doesn’t mean being a chameleon or doing something that just isn’t you. Look for clues and adjust your communication style to match your listener.
DAY 8: Delegate.
Delegate a project to a person who is willing and able to do the task. Help the person learn and problem-solve by asking open-ended questions and avoid giving the answers. Set clear, measurable expectations.
Sometimes there are go-for-type projects to delegate, such as, “Do these tasks exactly as I describe.” At times, this is appropriate. But strive to also delegate more significant projects, first by clarifying the outcomes and then allowing your employee to figure out the rest. Delegating—and then trusting your employee— is a big step toward maturing as a leader.
It can be hard to trust, especially if you’re delegating a task or a project you’ve done for years. It’s easy to think: ‘What if they don’t do it as well as I? What if they fail? If they fail, I fail, so maybe I should just do it myself.” However, with clear expectations and the right amount of support, you can successfully expand your employee’s role.
DAY 9: Recognize another.
Publicly recognize an employee’s success. Clearly state what they did, how they did it, and the impact they had on others. When you acknowledge an employee, you are affirming the value of their work. When employees feel valued, they become even more engaged and productive.
DAY 10: Develop a career plan.
Ask an employee about their career goals and then develop a game plan to help them reach those goals. Don’t wait for the annual review. Too much happens between reviews. Career-development meetings need to be dynamic. Find out what truly motivates your employee. What are his or her personal and professional dreams? Together, assess the competencies and experiences needed to reach his or her goals. Then, identify projects that can help your employee learn and develop those competencies.
WEEK 3: LEADING A TEAM
Once you can lead a person, you’re ready to take on a team. Build on the skills you’ve learned and apply them to a larger group.
DAY 11: Assess your team.
Ask your team members what they think are the team’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. (Often referred to as a SWOT analysis.) From that, identify common themes that will help you establish goals and strategies.
DAY 12: Define the mission.
Ask your team members what they think the team’s mission is.Facilitate the discussion by asking everyone to answer these questions:
- Who are we?
- What do we do?
- For whom do we do it?
- How do we do it?
- Why do we do it?
Combine the team’s answers to create a Compelling Mission Statement. You and your team may already know the company’s mission statement. But there are missions unique to each team. This is also a helpful exercise if you are creating a new team.
DAY 13: Hold a daily huddle.
Hold a 10-minute morning huddle to solicit everyone’s priorities for the day or week. Then make sure they align with the goals, mission, and your company’s values. You may need to help them re-prioritize.
DAY 14: Lead a dynamic meeting.
There’s so much time wasted in meetings. Most meetings are simply used to communicate information to others—and that communication can be accomplished through other channels.
For your next meeting, send out a schedule that states the reasons for the meeting, why people are asked to participate in the meeting, how decisions will be made, and any materials that should be read before the meeting. Meetings should be about making decisions. Clarify the agenda and answer questions: “Why should I go to this meeting? Am I coming here to listen, to make a decision, or to provide brainstorming?” Most times, people don’t know why they are attending. Set up a meeting with clear goals and expectations, and you’ll have more substantial outcomes.
DAY 15: Solicit feedback.
Bring in doughnuts and coffee and assemble the group to share positive stories about the company or team. Great ideas often get generated by these discussions. This is a time to provide positive feedback to the team or key individuals. Most of the time, we share feedback only when things go wrong. Feedback can become feared. Your team may think, “If the boss wants to talk to us, something must be wrong.” Sharing successes will help reinforce what is right.
WEEK 4: LEADING CHANGE
If you are successfully leading a team, you still may struggle with leading change. Almost every company is going through significant change, and learning to lead through it is the final stage in becoming a more decisive leader.
DAY 16: Engage others.
Involve a group of front-line managers or team members discussing their impressions on what needs to change. Often when a significant change happens, the top leader announces it. This sends a message that the person who communicates the change owns the change. Those who implement the change should announce it.
DAY 17: Assess the willingness for change.
Ask yourself what types of attitudes, conflicting priorities, or resources might be barriers to implementing a change initiative.
You can do this by yourself or pull others in. Will they want to change? If not, why? Ask, “What will prevent us from creating change: Resources, priorities, and attitudes?” This should become part of the planning process. Acknowledge the difficulties.
DAY 18: Define the benefits of change.
Describe (in one paragraph) the critical benefits of a change you want to bring about. Address concerns while painting a compelling vision for the reasons behind the change. Explain what can happen if the change is made instead of dwelling on the negative things that can occur if the change isn’t made.
People want to see where the team is moving.
DAY 19: Communicate in a variety of ways.
Develop a communication plan that uses various channels (speaking, writing, video, internet, focus groups, and bulletin boards). Don’t use just the most comfortable method to you as a leader, but one that you can tailor to different groups of people. Members of Generation Y might prefer to hear about a change initiative through texting. Baby boomers might want a face-to-face meeting.
Use all communication mediums when communicating change: face-to-face meeting, video conferencing, e-mail, and print. This way, everyone will get the message in the way they prefer.
DAY 20: Build credibility.
Ask a team member to share the results of a recent change initiative with senior managers. Instead of communicating the products yourself, give that task to a team member who helped implement it. You might provide the overview but then introduce a person who made it happen. It gives them exposure and helps build up-and-coming leaders.