Reality Checks Leaders Must Give Themselves in 2016 (Part One)

Leadership is not for the faint of heart. It never has been. The essence of leadership lies within who you are and how you behave. It is character-driven.

In fact, leadership and character are one and the same. Becoming a leader means embarking on a courageous journey of strength and integrity. Not everyone is qualified, but everyone is capable if given the tools.

Every leader must reach a point where they look in the mirror and have a gut-check, asking themselves some honest questions. But before we get to the hard realities that every leader or aspiring leader must face to understand what it truly takes to successfully lead others, a caution: There are prerequisites. You don’t just arrive at great and sustainable leadership with a rub of the genie’s bottle.

You need strong foundational work and pillars that may take months if not years to develop.

You need to create a compelling vision that inspires the people “in your bus” to help you achieve it. That vision has to be stacked on top of a solid framework of personal and organizational values that are practiced in hallways and conference rooms, not just displayed as words on a wall.

Finally, you need good bus-driving skills. If your geeked-up project team along for the ride doesn’t know what direction they’re headed or why they’re being steered in that direction, then you need to stop, put that bus in reverse, park, get everyone off and start over.

In all my years of coaching leaders to lead better, or being an unfortunate member of unhealthy and disengaged executive teams at former companies, I have seen firsthand some disastrous outcomes from leaders who fail to create an environment that allows people to thrive - where they are encouraged to work collaboratively, utilizing their unique talents, creativity, personality strengths and skills to achieve common goals.

The best leaders never stop learning and growing. They are introspective, look for opportunities to develop themselves, and will continually hone and fine-tune their leadership skills in order to serve others better. On top of hard managerial, left-brain skills that drive bottom-line results, they have uncanny intuition and perception to understand the emotional realities of the circumstances and people around them. They will then operate on those realities, often in support of elevating their own and other people’s behaviors and actions.

Today, I am sharing three reality checks that will help you gauge your leadership aptitude and assess whether changes need to be made going into 2016. Tomorrow, I will share two additional reality checks.

Reality Check #1

Leaders Can’t Motivate People, They Can Only Inspire Them to Motivate Themselves.

Readers of Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence will recall that the intrinsic self-motivation Goleman talks about in the “Self-Management” quadrant of emotional intelligence can only come from deep within a person. You can try to pound into a person’s noggin all the motivational-guru psychobabble a book or seminar has to offer, but none of it will stick if the person you’re trying to motivate doesn’t buy into your vision. It takes inspiration.

Inspiration in its most authentic form appeals on an emotional level to win hearts as well as minds. To truly engage your employees with an inspired approach, you need to capture their attention and hit the core of what motivates them. This takes the artful skill of communicating with influence.

When you shift your leadership perspective - moving from a power structure of tasks being handed down from Mt. Sinai to a worker bee culture to a structure that communicates a compelling vision, encourages shared decision-making and empowers its tribe - you inspire team members to succeed on an emotional level.

This is when your employees will spring out of bed in the morning because they cannot wait to get to work and contribute. They are motivated.

Reality Check #2

Leaders Need to Know the Core Elements Necessary to Attract and Keep the Most Talented Employees.

You inspired your employees. They feel empowered. They are ready to be rock stars. Now what?

One way to find out what they need to keep going is to get schooled on the best talent management practices out there and then align them to suit your performance management plan. You can start with the Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Survey. For decades now, Gallup has interviewed millions of workers globally as well as over 80,000 managers across a broad range of companies, industries and countries to find the core of a great workplace. Thanks to Gallup, leaders can measure the core elements needed to attract, focus and keep their most talented employees by asking simple questions like:

  1. Do my employees know what is expected of them?
  2. Do my employees have the materials and equipment they need to do their work right?
  3. Do my employees have the opportunity to do what they do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have my top performers received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Do immediate managers/supervisors seem to care about them as people?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my people's development?

Reality Check #3

Leaders Need to Look in the Mirror and Ask, “Does My Behavior Increase Trust?”

Trust is the pillar your leadership should stand on. While trust is somewhat of a subjective concept, leadership behaviors that promote trust can be defined, measured and improved upon.

In The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey highlights behaviors that are culturally ingrained in the leadership structures of some great companies known for high employee engagement. These are just a few trusted behaviors that drive performance and define how leadership teams and employees interact day-to-day.

Among those trusted behaviors are:

  • Creating transparency
  • Showing loyalty
  • Delivering results
  • Confronting reality
  • Clarifying expectations
  • Practicing accountability
  • Listening first
  • Keeping commitments
  • Extending trust

Trust is certainly a reciprocal concept—it needs to be shared, extended and be mutually beneficial for it to work. You might want to take some of those bullets above for a spin. Create a quick questionnaire and toss it around for feedback to see where you and your team stand with trusted behaviors. It might surprise you.

What questions might such a questionnaire include? Consider the bullet point showing loyalty for example. You might ask yourself and your employees, “Do I give credit freely?”

Other examples:

  • Listening first: Do I show real interest in what others say?
  • Practicing accountability: Do I blame others when things go wrong? Do I take responsibility for results?
  • Deliver results: Do I over-promise and under-deliver? Do I make excuses for a lack of results?

Please join me tomorrow for Part Two of this list.

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