THE S-FACTOR BLOG
10 Actions to Strengthen Your Leadership
A friend asked me to share my own top 10 actions to become a better leader. Everyone is different in what they need to focus on and develop as a leader. There is no single answer. But below are 10 tactical ways to jump start your leadership.
1. Know and Re-Affirm Your “Why.” Leadership is tough over the long run. Believe me, if you are not clear on why you are here, you’ll take a wrong turn and gas out soon. Bill George, best-selling author of True North, says that understanding what you value – why you are here – is at the center of being an enduring, authentic leader. Take the time now. Explore what you value. Articulate what gives you meaning in life. Take a crack at writing down your leadership philosophy. Think about what you want to achieve, and why. Then make it the foundation of all you say and do.
2. Use Your Strengths. Think about the work you were doing when you lost yourself in it and outpaced everyone in the room. Bonus: Find the cross-section between that work and what gives you meaning and what you enjoy doing the most. Equally, admit what you are weak and need support. The sooner you admit it, the sooner you can find someone to help you and focus on your strengths.
3. Walk the talk. People are always watching leaders. Leaders must consistently align how they act with the values shared of the team and company. If innovation is a shared value, you must always be pushing to pursue breakthroughs. If its spectacular results for its clients, you must deliver exceptional work and create the conditions for your people to do the same. Operate at the highest bar and set the example every day.
4. Tell stories. Stories are at the center of the human experience. That’s how we relate as people. Jim Donald, former CEO at Starbucks Coffee, had a brilliant way of telling memorable stories to affirm shared values. In one large open forum, he shared the story of a candidate who was bothered when he learned executives don’t have private restrooms. “You know what we did with him?” he asked the crowd. “Yep… We flushed him…. Right out the door!” The crowd roared, affirming that no one is above anyone else at Starbucks.
5. Take time to listen. There is nothing as powerful as a leader who takes time to get to know and actively listen. I know an executive with large real estate investment firm who gave hand-written holiday notes to over 600 people each year. He could do this because he had connected personally with nearly everyone from the CEO to the janitor, a fellow soccer fanatic. He took the time to know them, to listen to their perspectives, and advocate for them when they needed support. He has been rewarded with a responsive, loyal organization and great friendships throughout his career.
6. Trust. Nothing happens without trust. Humans must give trust to succeed. According to research by Shockley-Zalabak, Morreale and Hackman in Building the High-Trust Organization, high trust organizations outperform low trust organizations by 286%. A PWC study on innovation concluded that trust was the top factor differentiating top innovation companies from the bottom feeders. One uncomfortable but powerful way for leaders to spark trust is to share information about yourself, your dreams, goals and concerns about the business. Giving trust automatically builds trust. As a leader, it’s your job to be the first to trust.
7. Affirm the Mission and Strategy. When the team is heads down driving results, they can lose their view of their larger purpose and the tangible mission they are pursuing. Take a moment to lift their heads and refocus them on your collective purpose, or your shared “Why” according to Simon Sinek in his book Start with Why. Take a moment to articulate and describe the goal and then link it to the work at hand. You don’t have to dwell. Just take a moment to change the view and rest their weary eyes on the horizon.
8. Let People Run. Dr. Edward Deci, a leading researcher on human motivation for over 30 years, identified autonomy – the ability to self-direct one’s work – is an innate and powerful motivator. Even with the independent minds of the new millennial workforce, leaders and companies still struggle to free people to approach and complete their work as they choose. These companies need to take note soon of the creative, passionate and productive cultures at Patagonia and Google.
9. Challenge People. Steven Kotler, author of The Rise of Superman, notes from a recent McKinsey study that leaders are five times more productive when in a flow state at work. According to Kotler, one way to drive this flow is to increase the challenge just 4% above the highest levels of performance. Increasing the stress to a point where it’s challenging but achievable ignites the mind toward a deeper level of focus. A leader can do this by asking a team to do something a bit uncomfortable, like speed the time to market on a project. Or asking someone who isn’t comfortable speaking to present.
10. Shut up. In my opinion, too many leaders talk too much when what they really should do is shut up, listen, ask smart questions, listen again, clarify and then support their people. Perhaps this is repetitive to number 5 above but it’s worth repeating. Listen, listen, listen your way into leadership.
Leadership is about progress, not perfection. Practice. Be kind to yourself. Enjoy the journey.
If you want to talk more about your leadership, feel free to reach out to me here. I’d love to talk.
As an undergraduate, I studied androgyny as a force for creativity and transformation. It wasn’t my idea. Truth be told, I was carrying a “big bag of nothing” for a thesis topic and time was running out. My mentor offered it up. She said the future would be owned by creators powered by an androgynous mindset. Was I ever confused. But was she ever right.
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