Some years ago, I was reviewing a leadership styles 360-degree assessment with a client. What he thought he demonstrated was vastly different than how his team experienced his leadership behaviors. He seemed shocked by the large gap in how he rated himself in comparison to how others did. He asked me, “What would cause this?” At the time I told him that it probably pointed to a need to grow greater self-awareness. It was a difficult conversation because this very bright, capable and accomplished executive had never had any leadership development and rarely, if ever, received feedback. It was a new, and painful experience for him. I tried to make it easier to hear, without undermining the feedback.
As I have continued to learn and develop, I think back on that conversation and realize that it would be somewhat different if we had it today. It’s true that if he wanted to accomplish amazing work with his team, he needed to work on becoming more self-aware. He was driving results too much and needed to hand over more work to his team and let them take on more so they could have a chance to become as accomplished as this executive. We humans mostly learn from doing and all the trials and tribulation that come with hands-on practice. We discussed this and I still stand by it.
But growing self-awareness alone does not help us understand the needs of others. Nurturing and learning greater curiosity, empathy and compassion are required. More ongoing conversation and feedback from others helps us grow our understanding with a greater range of people with whom we can be more skillful. Developing greater empathy allows us to better understand how we motivate, inspire, recognize and coach people who have different needs, that have a range of personality traits, different life experiences and see the world differently than we do. If this sounds soft and fuzzy, I can live with that. But make no mistake, this is about leadership effectiveness.
To understand that leaders rarely accomplish anything alone, that they need others, requires learning to be less identified with the work and outcomes and more identified with truly engaging other’s best contribution. In other words, you have to want to nurture and develop human beings – to learn to coach them without doing for them. To trust them enough to allow them to struggle and make mistakes. And you need to be more curious about what makes them tick – which is often quite different than what makes you tick.
And you have to care about other people.
The conversation I often have now is, does this (very difficult, frustrating at times, keep you up at night) work of leading others, make your heart sing? Do you love developing others? Do you enjoy it and feel connected to it? Or, do you love doing the work, getting stuff done and owning the accomplishment? This is truly where self-awareness comes in. Leading others is far too difficult if you don’t love it!
What I know for sure is that every time a leader gets a new team member, takes on a new project, role, or organization, they will need to shift their behavior. Leadership will always be about meeting the needs of others, while still finding a way to take care of yourself. This part will never change.
Moira Clarke founded Leadership Consulting Partners 20 years ago to help companies advance their leadership and people systems. If you are reading this to the end, and you find value, please say so and share with others on LinkedIn and Twitter. Thank you!
Welcome to Moira's blog. I write a (mostly) monthly post about the work of building better work places: people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.