How to Be an Even Better Leader

How to Be an Even Better Leader

If you want to be a better leader, get curious about what you might still be able to learn.

We recently had a very senior leader join a live-online leadership training he had hired us to do with his team. Not in a “watch from the sidelines” kind of way as sometimes happens. He was all in.

He actively participated in the breakout conversations and completed his action learning assignments and reported them in the learning lab.

In addition to providing this training for his team, he was curious about what he could do to be a better leader.

In debriefing his experience after the final session, he shared.

This was interesting for me to slow down and really think about HOW I’m leading. I spend so much time on strategic issues, it was helpful to try some new approaches and tools. Ha, I can’t help but think that it might be helpful for my boss to take this class too  😉

4 Approaches to Help You Become an (Even Better) Leader

Once you get to “expert” level, it’s easy to put all your leadership development energy into your team. After all, it’s your job to grow leaders. You want to invest in your team as others have invested in you.

Perfect. There’s no better way to get your team focused on being better leaders than to show that you too are working to be a better leader. Experts are continual students.

Here are a few approaches that can help.

1. Slow down and revisit the fundamentals.

I (Karin) am a decent skier. Most of the time, I can get down the expert slopes without doing too much harm to myself or others.

But the trouble is, my form isn’t always the most efficient, or graceful. AND, I’ve been skiing pretty much the same way for the last decade.

This past week, over Christmas break, I did something I haven’t done in a really long time. In the mornings I watched some really basic Youtube videos which included some skiing drills. And then, I spent part of each day skiing the easy stuff and really paying attention to my form—before I headed back to the blacks.

Shocker—I got better.

What if you took a moment to really think about how you’re approaching the foundational leadership activities that come naturally for you and consider your technique? Look around. Read a new book. Notice what your peers are doing that might be worth a try.

2. Become a Leader Teacher.

One of the best ways to continue to refine your leadership skills is to teach leadership. In many of our long-term leadership programs, we incorporate a “leader as teacher” approach. In addition to more senior leaders participating in the program along with their teams, we prepare them to be “leader teachers” to reinforce the concepts and discuss application in-between sessions in small challenger groups.

There’s no better way to master a new skill than to teach it. And when leaders know they will be facilitating conversations about a new approach, they’re much more likely to try it themselves first so they can speak from first-hand experience.

You can do this on your own too.

Talk with your team about some strategic areas they’re focused on to become better leaders this year. Perhaps it’s getting better at leading virtual meetings. Or building a more robust virtual communication strategy. Stretch yourself to learn some new approaches, teach them to your direct reports, and then schedule some time to debrief how it went and what everyone learned.

3. Avoid S.A.S.R.N.T. syndrome.

When you’re a strong leader, and you stumble across a new leadership approach or tool, it’s easy to fall into S.A.S.R.N.T. syndrome. (So and So Really Needs This).

You think you know who needs this … my boss, or my peer, or my spouse, and you run off and immediately share it with them.

Of course, when you do that, you miss the opportunity to become a better leader yourself.

There’s no better way to get your team to notice a new approach than to first model it yourself. As you take the journey, then you can invite others to join you.

4. Involve your team in your development.

The start of the year is the perfect time to work on leadership development plans … not just for your team, but for yourself as well.

Start with a courageous question. “This year, one focus I have is working to become a better leader for you and the rest of the team. What’s one specific area you think I can work on that would have the biggest impact?”

Of course, when your team sees you investing time and energy to become a better leader, they’re more likely to make it a priority for themselves as well.

Your turn.

What would you add? What has worked for you to take your leadership to the next level?

Courageous CulturesAnd if you’re looking for an advanced leadership book to read with your team this year, check out Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovator’s Problem Solvers and Customer Advocates (and download the FREE Executive Strategy Guide) to facilitate a “leaders as teachers” conversation with your team.

how to manage your stress

How to Manage Your Stress Without Frustrating Your Team

You’re working hard to manage your stress and create a sense of calm for your team.

But now your team is looking at you and wondering if you get it.

They think, “If she really understood what was happening here, she wouldn’t be so calm!”

So, how do you manage your own stress AND encourage that sense of calm urgency on your team?

Manage Your Stress By Showing Up Excited, Not Excitable

The proverbial stuff had just hit the fan. I was stressed for “Mark” a Senior VP at a Fortune 10 company.

“Mark, are you okay? Are you stressed? What needs to happen next?”

He smiled, “Karin, I don’t get stressed. There’s no use in that. But as it turns out I’m a stress carrier.”

In humor lies the truth.

Mark had mastered the art of managing his own stress. He had what I call “excited without being excitable” nailed.  Deeply passionate about the work, nothing appeared to rattle him.

He approached this new challenge as if he’d seen it a thousand times before. His actions were values-based, consistent, deliberate, and timely.

And yet he knew that his calm words didn’t always have a calming effect on his team.

In fact, sometimes, the calmer he got, the wilder his VPs became—as if to make up for his lack of stress and outward frustration.

Stress was still rolling downhill, even though Mark had tried to stop it.

Excited Energizes, Excitable Freaks People Out

In almost every company I work with, I’ve noticed a consistent pattern—things are remarkably calmer on the executive “floor.” (Even if it’s not a real floor these days.)

The stakes are higher, the decisions more vital. These folks have farther to fall, and yet when the going gets tough (for the execs who’ve mastered executive presence) the volume doesn’t amplify.

In full disclosure, I didn’t learn this early in my career. For a long time, I believed my excitable nature proved I cared. I confused stress with passion. Fired up is different than freaked out. Know the difference in yourself, and in those you lead.

Your team longs for calm in you—and in them.

How to Encourage Excited vs. Excitable

So how do you grow leaders who emulate calm, in a frenetic context?

1. Acknowledge reality.

More than anything, your team needs to know you get it. Otherwise, they think your head is in the sand. When you calmly state the issue and the implications, your team gets to exhale. They’ll move from trying to prove that the fire is real, to trying to figure out how to extinguish it.

2. Stay consistently true to your values.

Great leaders stay true to their values when the going gets tough. If “customer service is our most important thing” has been your rallying cry and you start short-cutting when budget (or boss) pressures loom, your team will be confused at best. Don’t change course. Instead ask, how do maintain our commitment to a great customer experience with these new parameters?

3. Encourage innovation and creative problem-solving.

Chances are that someone is sitting on an idea that is so crazy it might just work. Give them an opportunity to share. Then help them calm down, ask great questions, and consider how they could best execute.

4. Use failure as learning.

When the going gets tough, our tolerance for failing decreases. And, even in many well-intentioned leaders, it fully disappears. Ironically, it’s when times are tough that we need to fail gracefully, learn, and move on. Compounding setbacks take their toll on an already stressed team and it can easy to stop trying anything new.

5. Stay real.

When the going gets really tough, your team wants the truth. Share what you can and help them to make informed decisions.

Stay excited. Resist excitable—for you and your team.

See Also: How to Manage Your Stress When the Sky is Falling (Harvard Business Review)