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Leadership Retrospective: Your Top Questions of the Year

Leadership Retrospective: Your Top Questions of the Year

 

Leadership questions are on your mind!

Among all the topics my clients, students, readers, and others have brought up in the past year (believe me, there’s exciting variety!), leadership questions continue to garner the most attention.

So I say, congrats to all of you. If you’re exploring ways to improve leadership, then it’s very likely that you’re on a growth path, pursuing intentionality in your career and life.

Which is music to the ears of a time-tested leadership coach like me.

Among the various leadership questions and subjects we explored together in 2019, a few discussions emerged even more consistently than the rest—whether in individual and group coaching sessions, on the blog, or elsewhere in cyberspace.

So what better way to kick-off the year for you growth-minded folks than to review a couple of the top leadership questions of 2019?

You can listen to the audio post or read the transcript below:

Listen Here: Top Leadership Questions of the Year

 

Transcript: Responding to Your Leadership Questions

It’s January of 2020. And I’ve just finished my 30th year of coaching and my 7th year of blogging.

And I was looking back over those years, and I’ve found that the biggest response to blogs and the biggest discussions that I get into with most clients over time is around the subject of leadership.

So I thought I would do a retrospective, and kind of summarize a lot of the things that I’ve written and coached on over the years.

This is designed to help you understand leadership and to improve it over time in you, if you desire it. If you don’t desire it, don’t bother with it.

Leadership vs. management

One of the most common leadership questions I get is “What’s the difference between leadership and management? Between a leader and a manager?”

I’ve read tons of definitions, and so have most listeners:

  • Heart versus brain.
  • Leaders are interested in doing the right thing. Managers are interested in doing things right.
  • Motivate versus direct.

The list goes on.

My definition has become hugely simplified over time:

Leaders have followers. Managers have subordinates, direct reports. But leaders have followers.

Now, think about this for a minute.

“Followers” implies voluntary. Because I believe in you – and the vision – and I respect you and I trust you, I follow you.

“Subordinate” implies I take direction, follow orders, and I’m subject to your authority.

If you are leading, you have my engagement, my belief, my desire.

If you manage me, you have my obedience, my response to your orders, my rule following for your policies and your procedures.

If I am led – if you are my leader – during my leisure time, I’m thinking about the vision, what the team’s trying to accomplish, because I’m engaged in what’s going on.

If I’m managed, I’m more apt to just think about my leisure activity, whether that’s mowing the lawn or riding around in my boat.

Notice – if you look at this definition – you can be a leader with no people reporting to you. (And I have a blog on that subject: “Lessons from Managing Nobody.”)

Martin Luther KingNelson Mandela, Gandhi, had millions of followers, even when few or none of those followers were subordinates.

Conversely, you can hold a high position with lots of subordinates, yet few followers.

Think of the presidents of the United States whom you rejected and tuned out.

The boss you obeyed just enough to keep your job. The boss that you don’t have respect for and doesn’t engage you, you can tune out.

The Leadership Continuum

Now, don’t make a mistake here of black and white. Most people are not 100% leaders and 0% managers or 100% managers and 0% leaders. Life doesn’t work that way. Human beings are more complex than that.

Things are not black, white. The light switch is not on or off. It’s on a continuum. The leader-manager scale is like a dimmer on a light switch: it goes from bright to 3/4 to medium, etc. It’s on a continuum, same way.

You likely have some attributes of each: manager and leader. And you express them differently in different situations.

For example, you might, in your natural state – when you’ve got plenty of time and it’s not an emergency – enjoy getting people’s input and their ideas. But in an emergency – like if there’s a fire – you simply give directives and give orders.

Another example: You might be a person who likes to give others credit for things that go well. But you only want to give that credit as long as you feel appreciated by your superiors. When you feel that you’re not getting credit, you might be more apt to grab the credit and try to get affirmation for yourself, without thinking of the people around you who contributed to the success.

So, it’s not black and white.

Remember the 80/20 rule. My 80/20 rule in life is: it’s not what you do 100% of the time. It’s how you behave the majority of the time.

Attributes in Leadership

Also, your personal attribute profile will make leadership behaviors easier and more natural, or harder and more effort for you, depending on your natural traits, your attributes.

For example, you will find leadership easier…

  • If you happen to be naturally humble.
  • If you naturally enjoy encouraging others.
  • If you form and communicate well larger vision and purpose.
  • If you are trusting in your delegation to people and you like to develop people’s abilities and to teach them.

Those may all come naturally to you.

On the other hand, leadership is going to be a bigger challenge for you if you…

  • Have a very high personal affirmation need.
  • Enjoy personally being in the spotlight and having power and having authority over others.
  • Are risk averse in delegating. You just want to make sure you have zero defects, and nobody ever makes a mistake.
  • Concentrate naturally on other people’s weaknesses.

All of those things can make leadership more work for you.

Improving Leadership

So let’s turn to, how do you improve your leadership, whatever your attribute profile?

Well, over the years, I’ve seen lists of “100 leadership traits” or “21 things all good leaders do” or “10 leadership musts.”

And they’re all discouraging.

Instead, I would encourage you to focus on gradually building up 3 areas of your behavior, of your attitude over time.

1. Vision

You see, people want to be a part of something important, something bigger than themselves.

If you can form and communicate, “What are we doing here and why does it matter? What’s our purpose?  What’s the large vision?”, it’s going to help you a lot.

2. Autonomy

Trust people to do their job well.

People hate being micromanaged. It shows lack of trust, and that you hold them in low esteem. You don’t think much of them.

And finally on the list of 3, the third one:

3. Develop People

People want to feel they’re growing in ability, getting new skills and new knowledge. That they’re getting better – that they’re having an opportunity to improve.

So, vision, autonomy, and develop people. Sure, there are lots of other things. But work on those 3, and you’ll meet the 80/20 rule over time.

In Conclusion

We have defined leadership. It’s voluntary followers. We’ve shown the effect of leadership versus management: engagement and belief.

We’ve shown that you can do it. Some of leadership’s attributes are there, in you. Might be medium, might be high, might be what I call power alley – they might be super high. But there are some there, on that list that I gave you.

And then finally, work over time on growing in the 3 areas you want to nurture: vision (and its cousin, purpose), autonomy, and development of people.

And by all means, please share your journey.

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