Are you Being an Effective Leader? 8 “Self-Checks” to Help you Increase your Leadership Self-Awareness.
Leadership is influence. The things you say and do every day have some level of influence on everyone in your environment. In other words, your habits, which reflect your plans, your philosophies, and your character, define which direction you are leading those around you. Your habits, the routines you consistently rely on each day, lie in the heart of trust. A mentor of mine told me, “you can only push someone as far as they trust you.” People will not follow you if they don’t trust you. With that said, if you are looking to lead effectively, here is a list of 8 habits that will help build trusting relationships with your followers.
1) Be vulnerable.
What does this mean?
Do your followers know what your struggles are? What motivates you? Is it fear of failure? Fear of success? A fixed mindset? If you haven’t dug into the studies of personality types, drives, and motives, I encourage you to do so. This will not only increase your own self-awareness, but also increase your ability to understand those you lead, allowing you to lead them in ways they will respond to positively.
The ultimate resource on what it means to be vulnerable is Brené Brown. Her research on shame is mind blowing – mostly because she didn’t find what she was looking for. In her TED talk, - The Power of Vulnerability,- she says, “when you ask people about love, they tell you about heart break. When you ask people about belonging, they’ll tell you their most excruciating experiences of being excluded. And when you ask people about connection, the stories they told me were about disconnection.” Although she set out on a quest to study connection, she ended up falling into the deep hole that is shame. My questions are, why are these two concepts, connection and shame, so closely related? Why do people associate one so closely with the other? Further, what does that mean for me regarding the way I coach, and the way I lead the people in my environment on a daily basis?
Through experience, reading, and asking great leaders, I have come to the conclusion that you can’t experience one without the other. Just like our muscles work in opposition, agonists can’t work to their full potential if the antagonist isn’t doing its job, an identical relationship exists between our minds and perceptions. The best leaders are only perceived and respected as “strong” if they are also willing to show their biggest “weaknesses.” Empathy, the skill of seeing what they see, is a key part of building a trusting relationship. It can’t happen if there’s nothing to be empathetic about. With that said, in order to experience the benefits of vulnerability within your team, department, or organization, you must first be willing to identify and admit your fears and weaknesses to yourself.
2) Have a Growth Mindset.
What does this mean?
What areas of your life / qualities/ characteristics do you view as skills you can improve or things you are just “bad” at? In regard to those you lead, what qualities, characteristics, or skills do you see as fixed or growth? How does it affect the way you lead?
This concept comes from Carol Dweck’s book, “Mindset.” The way I understand it, someone with this type of mindset has strong confidence in their abilities to learn and grow. As a leader, you must also have confidence in your follower’s ability to learn and grow. If you don’t, why are they in your circle? People who aren’t willing to work on advancing their skills are not people you want to be in and around your environment. They will have a negative impact on the culture of consistent improvement you are trying to create. Having a growth mindset as a coach also includes giving your athletes a clean slate every day, no matter what they do to NOT earn your trust. It is your job to coach them through their inconsistencies and keep coaching them. You are not allowed to give up on them and stop coaching as long as they are your athlete. A growth mindset is an everyday thing.
3) Coach the Person – not the jersey number, position, or scholarship status.
What does this mean?
On the daily, what is your ratio of “being polite” versus genuinely wanting to know how that person is doing? I challenge you to ask more authentic questions and find out more about the people you impact daily.
As coaches, it is our job to find out how to teach our athletes. Each athlete learns differently. From an exercise standpoint, some athletes learn visually, others through internal cues, others through external cues, and still others through pure exposure. From an effort standpoint, some athletes will love training, some not so much (the majority). With that said, if they don’t have the discipline to come in every day and get the most out of training, the results they experience will be sub-par. It is your job as the leader to solve the puzzle - to figure out how to coach them to motivate themselves to stay disciplined. You can only find this out if you know what is important to them, why they are there, and what their specific goals are. So, when you ask them, “how ya doin?”, actually mean it - don’t just say it to be polite. Take the time to ask them deep and meaningful questions that stimulate thought. My three go to questions are directly from Ron McKeefery –
1) Who is the most influential person in your life and why?
2) If you weren’t playing your sport, what would you be doing?
3) What is the most difficult thing you’ve ever been through?
4) Consistently pay attention to the little things.
What “little thing” has someone done for you that had a lasting effect? What are the “little things” that you have the opportunity to do every day for your followers?
Little things are the “little things” because of the amount they might affect productivity, efficiency, or the end result, not because they don’t matter. Spell their names correctly, wish them happy birthday, and congratulate them when they achieve something. It shows them that they are more than a squat max or speed number to you. Eventually, those “little things” will add up to a solid foundation of connection. As you consistently make a big deal out of the little things, those you lead will start to come to you with bigger things, and a trusting mentorship unfolds. Sometimes, it might even lead to life-long friendships.
5) Do what you say you are going to do.
What areas of your life get sacrificed when you spread yourself too thin? Are those areas important to you? If so, how are you showing it?
I will admit, I tend to try and do too much. I am a busy body to a fault, and I consistently under-estimate how much I will have time to do on any given day. I want to help people. I like giving my time to people because I think time is a valuable thing. My time commitment reflects my genuine hope to help people achieve their goals. Sound like anyone you know? The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given regarding this habit is to under promise and over deliver. When you over promise and under deliver, your genuine willingness to help people is overshadowed by your “flakiness.” Keeping your commitments and over delivering deepens the trust someone has in you, because they can count on you.
6) Clearly communicate standards and expectations.
Do you have your standards and expectations documented? How consistent are you at holding EVERYONE accountable to those standards? (there must be some “product” or consequence if the standards and expectations are not met)
In my undergrad, I had a teacher who gave us a chart with each assignment that defined the characteristics of an assignment worthy of each grade, A to F. Depending on the effort I chose to give to that given assignment, I knew exactly what I was going to get before I handed in the assignment. That built trust. With a few exceptions, I knew what my work had earned me. I was held accountable to my work through a grade. In the same way, we need to clearly communicate our standards and expectations for our followers, and then CONSISTENTLY hold them accountable to those rules. If you make too many “exceptions,” followers won’t know what to expect, or what “coach so and so” they will get on any given day. They can’t trust you. When you communicate your standards and expectations, make sure to clearly define them, make sure your followers understand what they are and what will happen as a result if they do or don’t follow them, and DOCUMENT IT. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just a basic word doc with everything down on paper and a signature and date. If you do not document it, it didn’t happen.
7) “Bottom line, be a damn good person.” – Candice Walls
When was the last time you were involved in a conversation where people were talking poorly about others? Are those trusting relationships?
Be honest. Be demanding without being demeaning. Admit when you don’t know something or don’t have an answer to someone’s question, then go find the answer. Don’t gossip. If you are talking poorly to me about someone behind their back, chances are you might talk about me behind my back as well. I won’t trust you. Treat everyone with the intent to help them or give them what they ask for (they might not want your help – but you need to find out!). Be consistent with your motives. Don’t complain. That only brings the environment and the people in it down.
8) Apologize when it’s your fault – whether it was intentional or not.
Is there something you should be apologizing for?
Accidents happen and things go wrong. It doesn’t matter if the excuses are “good excuses.” The fact of the matter is that something bad happened. Take the blame, adjust, and grow.
In conclusion, the heart of leadership is trust. The heart of trust is consistency. The heart of consistency is habit. The heart of habit is motivation. When it all comes down to it, a great leader must have high self-awareness to start building the foundation for a successful team/ organization/ staff/ etc. If you don’t know what motivates and drives you, how can you become the version of yourself that God truly intended you to be? Further, how can you truly lead others to become the best version of themselves? When you explore the possible answers to these questions, you’ll start to become the leader you want to be.
Final Self-Check: What are your habits? What do they say about your plans, philosophies, and character? Do you like what they say?