Being with a leader who is comfortable in their own skin, and comfortable with their part to play, is so appealing.
My first mentor, in my first proper job, set the bar high. She had many qualities of a leader, but one will stand out to me forever. It’s something that I continue to see in the most effective leaders that I come into contact within my role and in my personal life.
Security. She was secure in herself as an effective and competent leader and human being. She was aware that she was not the finished article, but was fully confident in her areas of expertise. It was obvious to her that when she praised others, it was not at her own expense – to invest in her direct reports did not jeopardise her unique contribution to the workplace, to comment on the achievements of her team did not devalue her accomplishments. In fact her actions demonstrated that she believed that as she remained open-handed and gave genuine feedback to her team, the more they respected her and the more they grew – which in turn increased the productivity and effectiveness of the whole organisation.
This kind of security is magnetic. It is attractive. Being with a leader who is comfortable in their own skin, and comfortable with their part to play, is so appealing. Leaders who give away what they know can be done more effectively by other team members are trusted, respected, and create a culture of dedication and loyalty. Their words mean a great deal – because they are seen as people of integrity and confidence.
Developing this trait in the workplace isn’t easy, especially if you feel like you’re the only one adopting this approach. We are all far too familiar with the dog-eat-dog approach to leadership that relies on stifling the successes of others, or even worse, taking the credit for them. These are not the managers that people genuinely want to follow: being someone’s boss, and being someone’s leader, are two very different things. In the short run, this kind of manager may produce results, they may seem to have a cooperative team, who are perhaps too cramped to even develop their own direction. However, looking at the long view, managers such as these create a culture of distrust and one-up-man-ship that erodes respect and has people looking over their shoulders, and talking behind their boss’s back.
But the good news is, it is possible to choose to lead this way, whatever example you have been set. Be comfortable with yourself. Take time to really consider your strengths, the behaviours, skills and experiences you bring to your team. Purposely and intentionally work to develop these areas so that they are fully functioning strengths that impact upon your productivity (and workplace engagement) every single day. Focus on these – use them to meet targets, to action plan, to navigate how you do relationships. The more you work on these areas of flair, the more comfortable and confident you will be to address your shortcomings, by leaning into the team that you have supporting you. Choose to give your team specific, and timely feedback. Ensure that they hear when they are doing well, that you tell them where you spot areas of strength. The more you do this, in a genuine and honest way, the more equity you put into that working relationship. I like to think of it like deposits at the bank – you have to put deposits in, so that you can draw out. If all you are doing as a leader is covering your own shortcomings and insecurities by pinpointing the failings of your team, you are constantly drawing on the reserves of goodwill and loyalty that will eventually lead you to bankruptcy. But if you remember to build on and focus on the strengths of each team member, and actually take the opportunities to verbalise these, there will be plenty to draw on for the times when more difficult conversations need to be had. The respect for your leadership will be there, and your colleague will have ears to hear the challenge that you may need to address.
In order to win, someone else does not have to lose.
Do you believe this? This concept is written about in Steve Covey’s bestseller, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Insecure leaders don’t lead this way. For the insecure leader, it is all about winning at another’s expense: for me to win, you must lose. This is another sure-fire way to the road of insecurity, because this involves controlling not only your own destiny, but the destiny of others, too. Of course, when you stop and think about this, it is difficult enough to chart our own paths with success, without trying to micro manage the outcomes for all those around us. This is a negative approach to leadership, leaders like these look for people to trip up around them, steal praise that is rightfully due to another, and feel overlooked if another is praised or promoted. Can you think of people like this? I have worked with, and can think of several people who fall regularly into this trap. There have been many times when I have had to purposely choose to walk round this pothole because in challenging moments or moments of insecurity it can look like the easiest and most effective option. Again, you can choose to operate counter-culturally, choosing to focus on celebrating your own successes, and praising those of your team. Every day, take a moment to appreciate what you have achieved, what your team has accomplished. Send that quick email or text that recognises it. Write a note in your diary to remind you of all that is worth celebrating each day. Think about your strengths – how did you use them today? How did you choose to exercise your talents in order to work towards the achievement of a target or a plan? Take stock of these and enjoy the moment. Has someone in your team prepared something for you? Don’t pass it off as your own work – even if they would never find out – give them the credit they deserve. Those that you are telling will notice that you were open-handed in your attitude and respect, and trust you all the more. Sooner or later, these small decisions to act from a place of security serve us well. Ultimately who do we place in key positions of authority and responsibility? Those that we respect, those that we trust and those that demonstrate their security every day.