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In my 20 years working as an Organizational Development Consultant and Executive Coach, I read about the various definitions of leadership. I have also learned a great deal about what will make you a better leader.
The definitions vary widely, but it seems more important to describe the common elements of strong leadership. These include:
- Developing solutions to human needs
- Integrating around you people who believe in your vision
- Generating opportunities for learning and personal growth
- Responding to the achievement of objectives
- Ensuring that your team members develop their potential and add value to the shared vision
- Making specific efforts to transcend the collaborators, the organization, and society
The problem is not in defining the concept but in becoming a true leader who can systematically obtain results. Doing this requires overcoming adversities, generating clear differentiation, and making all collaborators join the project by putting their best capabilities at the service of others.
Hurdles in the path to becoming a more effective leader
So, what prevents people from becoming good leaders? What prevents the good wishes and legitimate aspirations of leading a team from being lost when the position has been reached? The difference between “want” and “like” comes to mind now. One thing is wanting or yearning for a work of organizational hierarchy to make decisions, grow professionally, and do everything we imagine beneficial to the organization. Reaching that state, enjoying it, and having the ability to convert into actions what were dreams is entirely another thing.
An age-old debate exists regarding whether a leader is born or made. Clearly, a series of behavioral characteristics and personality patterns favor some facets of leadership. But the reality is that there is much to learn and, above all, much to master from oneself in order to become a good leader.
It suffices to say that leadership has a lot to do with avoiding and self-regulating to be able to act and achieve the expected result.
In my professional development as an Executive Coach and leadership training processes, I come across similar problems, regardless of age, nationality, or type of company. It seems that the human tendency to act in a certain way when faced with similar problems is a constant. The human in all its complexity acts as a consistent whole when it comes to personality patterns, emotions, aspirations, and above all, decisions.
Do different styles of leadership actually exist?
In practice, it is difficult to imagine that people in leadership positions consciously decide what "style" to use to gain the attention of the individuals with whom they interact. At the moment of truth, our actions are motivated by the desire to do things well, or express our power, exert force, influence others, and leave a good memory. We act with different purposes that lead us, at the end of the day, to have the feeling that we did the right thing, as best we can, according to our judgment.
I disagree with the idea that there are different "styles" of leadership, instead, there are different types of leaders who will be evaluated for the ability to achieve results with the support of their team. There exists a tendency to act in a certain way when faced with a challenge So, the leadership career has, in my experience, a lot to do with the leaders’ ability to self-manage, avoid falling into behaviors that take them away from their goals. It also requires constantly evaluating if the way they solve things is the most optimal.
Self-knowledge will always remain the key to having a solid starting point. Personal experiences, our history, give us the necessary elements to internally defend our way of acting. This is true no matter how unpopular it may seem and only when there is true unsatisfaction by the result that is being obtained. Good leaders understand and define conditions to achieve change in the way of acting. This requires, in addition to self-awareness, a defined learning plan based on what is considered a new priority.
Leadership then moves in two directions. One towards impulse, threat, or doing things as perhaps they have worked for us for years. This tends to build resistance to act in a different way. On the other, it guides towards an aspirational purpose focused on having a positive resonance in the collaborators who seek better results in an organizational climate that aims to become a high-performance environment.
Common threats to being a good leader
In the following table, I describe in a general way what constitutes the most frequent threats that challenge the leader. These can cause people to become stuck in a state contrary to leadership decisions focused on generating a high-performance team. I mention the belief that becomes an anchor that prevents moving from that trend as well as the opposite conclusion that would require different levels of maturity in behavior.
|IMPULSE||UNDERLYING THOUGHT||DECISION||MATURITY LEVELS|
|Concentrate||"Nobody does things better than me."||Guidance||
|Overexertion||"The more effort, the better the results."||Regulation||
|Preserve||"If it worked well, why change it?"||Change||
|Negativity||"If it is not perfect, it is not worth it."||Influence||
|Selfishness||"Individualism guarantees better results."||Inclusion||
|Inertia||"Things settle down if everyone does their thing."||Envision||
A natural inclination of those in a position of responsibility is to concentrate power. This tendency leads to avoiding effective delegation under the belief that no one has more experience than the boss. After all, bosses are the ones who make important decisions and implement them. If that belief is challenged, leaders can make the decision to GUIDE, which leads them, in the first stage, to delegate activities, functions, responsibilities, and authority. That first decision only becomes effective when leaders know what is expected of them and have developed the necessary skills.
In this case, the leader has a function of great importance, since it requires dedicating time to becoming co-responsible for the development of the potential of its collaborators. This can be achieved, through feedback and coaching meetings where leaders and collaborators engage in dialogues about strengths and weaknesses of defined action plans.
Avoiding the “if you want something done right, do it yourself”
At a third level, the leader is expected to think about how to support a succession plan through the appropriate transfer of knowledge and skills. This is how the leader fulfills a complex function that requires humility and a vision of the future: preparing who will be able to carry out their role, whether by retirement, growth, or change of organizational structure.
People often share the concept that more hours of work leads to better results. In fact, studies show that maximum performance is acquired at moderate levels of motivation and effort. The leader must learn to regulate this tendency to avoid falling into exhaustion. The critical decision in this area involves prioritizing the most relevant issues that require direct attention from leaders to focus with all their capacity, to be able to add value, and to become a clear example for their collaborators. This set of decisions leads to a holistic perspective of results including professional advancement, personal satisfaction, and time to dedicate to dialogue with the team. It also leaves enough space for learning, fun, family, and everything that is considered useful.
While people commonly have the idea that change tends to be fair, there is the urge to maintain what has worked well for us in the past. This perspective functions as a detonator of a cultural pattern in which leaders fail to open enough spaces for dialogue, and those who dare to question sensitive aspects of the organization are seen as poor naysayers. The first step in getting out of that state is for the leader to make the decision to be open to change, so spend time seeking knowledge, fostering their growth mindset, and being open to new approaches, processes, and methodologies. In the next step, the leaders should seek to open up to the opinions of their teams, accepting the possibility of mistakes and rewarding the free expression of ideas. Only in this context will leaders emerge who foster innovation through a climate of freedom. That decision is critical today to stay in the market with a value proposition that offers clear differentiation.
“Influence” rather than “Impose”
We live in a competitive world, and we know that only the fittest survive in business. This situation is fertile ground for some leaders to have a very high demand with their standard and, of course, with their collaborators. Leaders who never feel calm and satisfied with where they are and who spread that feeling should always go for more. Motivation toward achievement drives growth and prosperity, but when not managed properly, it can result in an urge to see everything negatively. There is also a high possibility that the leader expresses autocratic behaviors. The decision the leader can make is to influence rather than impose.
In the first instance, exercise self-compassion to treat yourself as you would your best friends, recognizing that failure is human and that there is always an opportunity to reward success even with partial results. A leader with opposing polarity and high demands tends to fall into the inability to control their temper and cause a very negative atmosphere in their teams. Developing awareness about the impact your emotions have on others is the first step in influencing attitudes without imposition.
Balance individualism and collaboration to foster inclusion
It is difficult to know if our human nature moves us more towards individualism than towards collaboration. Still, if we see it in the organizational context, it would seem that it is easier to answer for our work than to seek cooperation. This idea significantly affects leadership since it sees people as producers of results. Still, their human side is no longer observed, their ability to relate and create synergies that exceed the sum of individuals. Leaders can make the decision to adopt inclusion behavior and, from there, give value to each member of his team, generate closeness, show vulnerability, allow themselves to engage in direct and friendly dialogue, give them value for their human quality, observe their potential, recognize their contributions. This approach will foster a collaboration that will enable the achievement of common objectives in an environment of cohesion and good communication.
Define a Vision
Part of that individual approach leads some leaders to trust that a particular effort will be enough to achieve results. Thinking that there is inertia leveraged by the benefits of the product or service leads to keeping things in the correct state. That approach is challenged with the decision to continually question the status quo, define a vision that is capable of guiding the individual effort. A leader inspires his followers when he is able to sell a vision, solve the market riddle, and implement a winning strategy with the support of his collaborators.
Being a good leader requires fostering personal self-knowledge, having the ability to challenge beliefs, and working on a development plan. The leadership path implies constant growth and becomes a vocation that justifies a life through promoting significant improvements in the people around us.
BetterUp Fellow Coach