Leadership is like an airplane mask: you need to focus on yourself first. Effective leadership starts with expanding our own knowledge, learning about the world around us, the people we work with, and being willing to learn about ourselves.
“I need you to help Susan.” Translation: “I need you to fix Susan so she fits in with how I think our company should run.” These are thoughts from Mitch, one of the partners in a small professional services firm I have worked with, seeking my help to improve Susan, the other partner in the firm. Mitch is not alone. I often hear these concerns asking for help to improve other people in the company. It’s frequently easier to see what other people “need” than it can be to look at our own opportunities for growth, or how the team could grow together.
We see the world through our own lens of experiences and observations. An effective leader is willing, and chooses, to look beyond their own stories. If we are leading from our own “windowless office,” we will likely miss the rich perspectives that the people around us bring to the table. The best leaders not only consider the viewpoint of others, but they also look at self-leadership first.
Ask yourself: “What growth areas and different perspectives do I need to embrace or at least explore to be a better leader and business partner?”
As partners in an almost 10-year-old insurance firm, Terry and Sam suffered from leadership growing pains, as well. Sam didn’t realize Terry’s perspective had changed since the early days when they started the firm. Sam was excited about continuing to build the company and developing the team for the future. He was feeling the typical bumps along the way but was also increasingly frustrated by the less-than-engaged energy he was sensing from Terry. He couldn’t quite put his finger on the problem.
During our coaching sessions, Sam was open to hearing Terry’s feedback about some observations she’d made regarding Sam’s interaction with the team. Sam was a high-energy driver with a big vision and high standards (excellent characteristics for a successful CEO). Sometimes his fast-paced and quick decision nature left some of his more methodical staff members feeling bulldozed and overwhelmed.
Sam was open to hearing Terry’s perspective without being defensive, which helped create an environment where Terry felt comfortable talking about what had changed for her. She was able to realize and express in a couple of coaching sessions that she did not share Sam’s enthusiasm to grow the company at warp speed. Though the business was very important to Terry, over the last few years her personal life priorities had shifted. By being open to learning and respecting each other’s priorities, Sam and Terry were able to lead the business and the team more effectively.
The most effective leadership starts with self-leadership – working on ourselves before trying to “fix” others. The best leaders are open to learning about the people and the world around them. What’s behind the decisions and behavior we observe? What has each person learned about how the business world works? How might those lessons prove to be limiting beliefs, or how could different perspectives add to a broader, more effective approach?
I encourage you to ask more questions, look at things from a different perspective, and hold fast to a commitment to continuous improvement.
Kim Ellet is a certified professional coach and owner of The Growth Coach of Metro Atlanta. She finds joy in helping successful leaders committed to continuous improvement, be more of who they are, dream bigger dreams, and accomplish more than they realized was possible.