As I detailed in this post, leadership is not simply a set of skills. There is an inherent belief system that strong leaders have about their function and purpose. So how do individual contributors in organizations across the globe that are not in formal leadership roles begin to develop that belief system and practice their leadership “skills?” Here are 5 things you can begin doing today that lay the groundwork for effective leadership:
- Take a cold-blooded inventory of yourself.
Each of us has a unique style and approach to making decisions, interacting with others, gathering information, setting priorities, etc. And that style will work great…when we’re dealing with people exactly like us. Much to our dismay though not everyone is like us. How do those around you experience your style or approach? How does your personality work in your favor? How does it work against you? In what ways do you need to flex your style in order to be successful? What behaviors, important for leaders to display, will you have to intentionally reach for because they don’t occur organically for you? What are you bad at? There are a variety of reputable assessments that can help you begin self-exploration. Self-awareness is the first step to developing capacity for leadership. As you may know by now, I’m a big fan of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).
- Find a mentor.
A mentor is not a coach. It’s someone you respect that you’ve chosen to learn from, emulate, communicate with. Also a mentor is typically someone that does not have responsibility for your performance at work. Work to identify those who fit this description in your life and ask them if they will serve as a mentor. When making this request though, be specific. Simply asking someone to be your mentor is ambiguous. The person you’ve identified may hesitate due to a lack of understanding of the role or the time commitment. Explain the reasons you are approaching them and what specifically you’re asking for: “I really respect your knowledge and experience. Can I ask you to have coffee with me once every 2-3 months so I can pick your brain?”
- Treat all feedback as a gift.
Have you ever received a gift and thought “Where did this come from?!” Most of us have had that experience. Yet in that moment we choose diplomacy over all-out honesty. Feedback, especially feedback you disagree with or that upsets you, should be received in the same way. If you are getting feedback you don’t agree with or don’t understand respectfully ask for clarification and examples but along the way remain polite and diplomatic. Any amount of defensiveness can be perceived as not being open to feedback. Thank that person for sharing the info with you.
- Ask “What don’t I know?”
Think about that question for a moment: “What don’t I know?” It’s incredibly powerful and ensures intellectual humility. KNOW that there’s a lot you DON’T KNOW. Use this question daily. Imagine how your perspective might be changed when asking this question while dealing with a difficult customer or assuming new responsibilities at work. Reaching for the info or perspective that is unseen or direct is a key part of critical thinking. This question is one you’ll never fully answer but it will help cut down on surface-level assumptions and result in more informed, balanced approaches. Keep this question at the ready- it’s useful every day.
- Move from task orientation to purpose orientation.
It’s easy to think that much of what we’re asked to do daily is grunt work. But in most cases every small task is connected to a larger purpose. To develop capacity for leadership, ask yourself what the larger purpose of the task is. Ask “Why is this important to do well?” Let’s say your job involves a variety of tasks like answering the phone, sending faxes, or placing orders on a computer. If you work in a doctor’s office then connect those tasks to your larger purpose: you help take care of sick people. And when you do those tasks well it means your patients get in front of their doctor more quickly, they won’t have to stress over paperwork errors, and the whole team gets the benefits of working in an environment that’s a well oiled machine.
When delegating to others be sure to do this as well. Don’t assign tasks, assign responsibility. It grants authority, increases ownership of the tasks, and creates shared purpose.