Want to Be a Better Leader? Read This

by Dave Kerpen
Republished from Inc. January 19, 2018

It wasn’t that Jason didn’t want to be a great leader or realize that what he was doing wasn’t working, but that’s all he knew. He was doing what his boss did. What his boss’ boss did. Every senior executive at his company seemed to lead from the “Command and Control Playbook” and they had left him a legacy of leadership tools that simply weren’t having the impact that he needed. His results were suffering, and he didn’t know which way to turn. How do you lead at the precipice of a new era?

Jason’s story is not unique. But it is a new world and it requires a new way of leading. It’s not easy to forge a path that is different from your predecessors.

What can leaders do today to get a better result? Sadly, there are no magic pills or quick fixes, but there are some very powerful strategies that courageous leaders can employ. I talked with Kimberly Davis, a TEDx speaker and expert on authentic leadership, about her new book, Brave Leadership:  Unleash Your Most Confident, Authentic, and Powerful Self to Get the Results You Need. Here are the strategies she shared:

  1. Lead Through the Lens of Humanity

Since the economy crashed in 2008 the world of work has been turned upside down. Job security has disappeared, business moves at the speed of light, and complexity, ambiguity, and uncertainty in the workforce have increased exponentially. We need people to do more with less, faster. This forms the backdrop for stress, overwhelm, anxiety, vulnerability, and frustration.

Brave leaders recognize that they must deal with what’s real. What’s real in today’s work environment is a bevy of emotions that, if ignored, can destroy results. While messy and inconvenient, we human beings can’t truly “leave our emotions at the door” and smart leaders know how to recognize, honor and defuse the heightened emotions in the workplace. They lead through the lens of humanity.

  1. Appeal to the Heart, Not to the Head

Consider for a moment, the difference between force/coercion and influence. Or obligation/compliance and true influence. Think about it in relation to yourself. If you feel like you have to go to a meeting instead of wanting to be there, what’s your energy like? How differently do you participate? Is your computer open? Are you checking your phone a million times, or are you listening and engaged and asking questions? True influence assumes that there is a choice. People want to be there, not have to be there. They want to engage, they want to give their best, they want to listen. They want to follow, not have to follow.

Brave leaders know how to connect to the “want” of those they lead. You can’t fake want. Want comes from the heart, not the head. Want is the birthplace for engagement, creativity, excitement, joy, commitment, trust, and loyalty. If we want our cultures and our organizations to be filled with engaged, creative, excited, joyful, committed, trusting, and loyal people–we’ve got to connect to their want. Brave leaders appeal to the heart, not the head.

  1. Allow Others to Determine Your Authenticity

Authenticity is a hot topic. On any social media platform at any given time, you only need to scroll five minutes to find a post or a meme that says something like, “Be yourself! Be authentic! Who cares what anyone else thinks!” Yet from a leadership and influence standpoint, that definition isn’t enough. If you need to connect to the want of others, to effectively lead and influence, you must care about what other people think and feel–about how they experience you. Do they experience you as genuine, worthy of trust, reliance and belief?

Authenticity lies in the eye of the beholder.

What your boss needs from you to experience you as “worthy of trust” is likely very different from someone who reports to you. What your colleagues will need from you to experience you as genuine will not be the same thing your shareholders or clients need. Brave leaders recognize that every human being has unique needs and they know how to sincerely prepare and connect accordingly. They’re not chameleons, they simply put empathy into action.

  1. Focus on Impact Outside Yourself

The world of work is a high stakes and vulnerable environment. In our frenzy to hit deadlines and goals, we often find ourselves reacting to the world around us, and the human wake can be disastrous. When we’re worried about making a mistake, about proving ourselves, and about not looking foolish, it only kicks our stress hormones into high gear and our ability to influence others, beyond our title and position, evaporates. Reactivity hijacks results.

To tame our own unwieldy emotions and ensure powerful, constructive action, we must harness our attention by focusing on a purpose bigger than ourselves. Clarity of purpose leads to powerful external behaviors–the way you show up in the world and the actions that you take–your results are but a byproduct. Begin by asking yourself, “What is the impact you want to have (on your employees/team/culture/community/etc.)? Allow your answer to guide you toward a purposeful, constructive objective–a Super Objective–on which you can focus your attention. Do you want to ignite a culture of excellence? Do you want to create a safe environment? Do you want to sow the seeds of self-confidence? Why do you care, beyond a paycheck? Beyond the numbers?

Brave leaders know that a focus on purposeful action–the impact you want to have outside yourself–is the key to powerful results.

  1. Make Purpose Your Aim, Not Goals

A few weeks ago, I read an article on Linkedin about a consultant who had gone in to get a new cell phone and was pressured to change his plan. He politely told them no (he had been grandfathered in on a great deal), but when he left the store, he started getting notifications that he was over his data limit. Since this had never happened before, he got suspicious, called the company, only to discover that they had changed his plan without his permission. He went back into the store and talked to the manager who admitted to switching the plan and essentially told him he was foolish for not liking it. The consultant happened to work with a lot of cellular companies, so he knew what was going on. The manager had a quota to hit. You switch X of customers over to the new plan – you hit your goal – you get a bonus.

Goals are not enough. By solely focusing on the numbers our organizations suffer. When our values take a hit, people stop experiencing us as genuine, worthy of trust, reliable and believable–they don’t experience us as authentic–we lose their want. Be it customers, employees, or our community, when we’re inauthentic our results suffer.

Contrast this experience to the actions Southwest Airline’s Herb Kelleher took when he was at the helm. In his commitment to build a culture of commitment and create customer evangelists (which some might say is a pretty powerful Super Objective) he empowered employees, jumped into the trenches, walked the halls, gave away peanuts, and didn’t charge for bags. His actions weren’t generated by a spreadsheet but by purpose–which created the foundation for an enduring, thriving business that has the lowest turnover in the industry and fiercely loyal customers. In a decade in which competitors have seen record-losses, Southwest Airlines celebrates 44 years of consecutive profitability.

But the profitability was a byproduct. A byproduct of brave leadership.

It’s completely understandable that leaders like Jason are confused. The leadership landscape has changed dramatically and there are too few people modeling the way. It’s a good-news/bad news story. Is it going to be hard to scale? Yes. Is it going to be more difficult? Yes. But it will also set you free.

For your greatest results are simply a byproduct of you being you constructively and powerfully. Which is likely the greatest challenge that any of us face. That’s why it’s reserved for the brave.

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Mark Hozza