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Leadership – A rule of threes

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In this week’s blog, I’m going to give you a blueprint for much better leadership. It’s essentially a playbook of excellence when it comes to leadership. I will answer all of your leadership questions and solve all your leadership problems with three simples rules for leadership.

Three things to stop doing, start doing and keep doing.

Stop

  1. Micromanagement: it doesn’t work and is the opposite of what you want to achieve as a leader.
  2. Changing the goalposts: it’s confusing to your team, reduces productivity and makes you look unprofessional.
  3. Gossiping about others: if your team hears you, they’ll wonder what you’re saying about them behind their back.

Start

  1. Seeking mentors: coaches need coaches, and it demonstrates professionalism.
  2. Disagreeing politely: fight the problem, not the person. Conflict can be healthy if it’s moderated and respectful.
  3. Leaving loudly: your team deserves to know they can put themselves and their family first, create a culture where staying late isn’t a badge of honour.

Keep

  1. Praising team members: no one has ever quit because their leader publicly acknowledged them for doing a great job!
  2. Perusing life long learning: inquisitive leaders seek different perspectives and can change their minds and positions on topics.
  3. Investing in people: the most untapped resource on the planet is the human mind, build better leaders and seed them throughout your organisation.

OK – lets drill right down into the weeds with these concepts.

Stop

These are things that create frictions within a team and lead to confusion for team members.

1. Micromanagement

When we micromanage someone, we undermine them. You’re not leading someone if you are micromanaging their behaviours and doing the work for them or through them. Good leadership requires:

  • Sharing the journey that you’re all on,
  • Conveying the tasks required of the team member, and
  • Giving them time to work out a solution within their authority and skills and then seek the resources from you to do the task.

Remember, just because someone wants to do something slightly different than the way you would like it done doesn’t necessarily make it wrong (as long as it’s done safely, ethically and legally). Your role is to sit above the process and guide team members to keep everyone moving forward on the chart you have plotted for them.

2. Changing the goalposts

When a leader changes course in the middle of a project, it can have seriously detrimental effects on morale. Interestingly, this is sometimes a fault seen in really good leaders who communicate clearly and articulately, but the wheels of change above them are working rapidly, and so they change the project. There’s something to be said for outlining visions in large, broad-brush strokes, not in the minute detail of the tasks when working in the conceptual space. It lets use up in the bridge of a giant warship as the metaphor. You’re more able to adjust the course of the behemoth than if you were down in a dingy at the bow of the ship.

3. Gossiping about others.

You are the standard you accept. Gossiping is an evolutionary habit. Before our ape ancestors had developed guttural utterances to communicate, they would groom each other to show warmth and affection. This behaviour continued even as rich language was developed and it slowly morphed into sharing information, instead of removing lice from one another’s neck fur. Imagine a group of team members standing around a water cooler saying “Have you heard”, and then you can add any unsubstantiated rumour or conspiracy theory after that..this is akin to one giving a gift to the other, but instead of the removal of a bug or tick or a knot from their hair – it’s the gift of knowledge. And when someone doesn’t have something to share with the group, they can very often just make it up. As a leader, it is one of your roles to know this trait in humans and to be on guard against it. Nothing says you’re fine with rumours and innuendo and conspiracies than you’re starting them yourself.

Start

1. Seeking mentors.

Leaders and their styles come in many forms. If you think about the leaders you have witnessed, there have been thoughtful leaders, brash leaders, quiet leaders, and leaders you can hear in another country. Some leaders draw their strength from a great grasp of language, some from setting the behaviours they expect and some through acts of courage, be it physical or moral. The diversity is almost without limit. I would argue that historical forces create the circumstances in which leaders emerge, but the characteristics of the particular leader, in turn, have their own impact on history. With this in mind, you need to prepare your “Leadership Arsenal”. This means consulting widely and building a network of coaches and mentors to help you level up all facets of your leadership style. One isn’t enough. It takes a village to raise a child, and so it is with leadership, it takes a robust cohort of brilliant people to help you become the best leader that you can be.

2. Disagreeing politely.

Make a stand. In the wise words of Midnight Oil, it’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees. Jokes aside, it’s essential for leaders to create a safe culture where people can have disagreements, even heated discussions to flesh out viewpoints and opinions. However, everyone must be valued and heard. I would make this contractural in my team. There’s a great saying “fight the problem, not the person.” All of the trials and tribulations that your team goes through should be approached from a position of consideration, not contestation (if that’s not a word, then I’ve just invested it). It’s OK not to hold the same view, as long as the discussions are measured and take into account other peoples’ positions. I truly believe that one of the issues with workplaces today is a lack of people who can successfully debate, form a position and make a structured and reasonable argument. It also stands to reason that it’s OK to change your mind. The humility that comes from telling someone, “wow, I never thought of it like that, I can see what you’re saying and I’ve changed my mind on this topic” there’s power in that for both sides of the debate.

3. Leaving loudly

With great power also comes great responsibility. If you’re in a position as a leader to manage your time and workload, and if you can sneak away to pick the kids up from school or go to watch sport, or head out to do retail therapy – whatever it is that you can sneak away to do – DON’T, don’t sneak away. Leave loudly. That’s good leadership. It sends a message that it’s OK to manage your time and not always put work at the centre of your life. It sends a message that work/life balance is a good business strategy, and it stops people creating rumours to explain your absence. Thought should also be given to the expectation of after-work emails.

Keep

1. Praising Team Members.

First let me say this, condescending does not release energies or stir motivation to get the best out of someone. There’s no place in a team for any conversations that belittle, tease or bully. I grew up in that environment, where it was alpha against alpha (varying levels of alpha I might add). All that it created was an unhealthy competition and a poisonous culture of always trying to get one up on each other. Jokes at other peoples expense and expecting people to have a thick skin is not OK. You don’t get to tell others how you make them feel about their insult you have dished out.

The foundation of leadership is influence, think of it as the concrete slab of leadership. It compels your team to do what you want them to do because they want to do it, which is leadership in a nutshell. The foundation then has three pillars: PURPOSE, MOTIVATION and DIRECTION. Each of these pillars composes bricks of behaviours, actions and characteristics.

Let’s focus on motivation pillar for a moment. It’s constructed of all the interactions you have that emotionally connect your team members to their work. Celebrating birthdays, giving awards for excellent performance, in some cases sharing that a person has done the mundane over and over again (perhaps it’s part of their job description – but by virtue of them doing the mundane they’ve averted a crisis – lots of maintenance roles come to mind in this scenario). In all its forms, praise is the bricks that make up the pillar of motivation, which stand on the foundation of influence.

2. Perusing life long learning

You can not lead others else until you can lead yourself. You need to reflect on your own personality and understand who you are to know how others might perceive you.

We do this exercise in my leadership consultancy business. Participants write strengths and areas for development on post-it notes for all the other participants. We then map them on a board. You’d be surprised about the gap between how a person sees themselves and how others see them. Knowing your own DISC profile or your personality bias is the start of life long learning, gathering a deep understanding of how you react in different situations, how you cope under pressure, and how you cope under pressure.

Know thy self and the impact that you have on others. This seems to be lost on the new generation (i.e. your kids). My observations are that this next generation isn’t being taught how their actions affect others. Affecting others with your behaviours makes you less likeable (think loudness, swearing, littering, spitting, cursing, pushing in – there are countless examples), and one of the most important aspects of true leadership is to be likeable. You can’t get people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it when they can’t stand you because your behaviour affects them physically or mentally.

Another aspect of life long learning is the laboratory of work itself. I talked about finding mentors in the things to start doing, but you should also witness reverse role models – those that you don’t want to emulate. Look for ineffective leaders, keep notes on what they are doing that is not effective.

Look for role reassignment when you can, it staves off boredom, and you’ll learn new skills. Being a generalist is vital if you want to succeed as an impactful leader. Life long learning means being able to cross boundaries in your thirst for leadership knowledge. Business have departments and can be very protective of their turf – you want people to see you as one of theirs even though you may not be at all.

3. Investing in people

The most untapped resource, and without a doubt the most powerful resource that can change the world, is the human mind. You only need to look at the people behind the great companies of our time to see how the human mind, coupled with unwavering motivation, has changed the world. Facebook, Google, Amazon, Tesla.

Having said that – humans are complex and messy. Life and the world around us are equally as complex. Our team members are affected by more than just your leadership shadow. They’re affected by environmental circumstances over which you, as a leader, have very little or no control. They’re affected by their human impulses and reactions to stimulus. They’re affected by chance events in their lives and more profound events that they are perhaps not willing to share with you (think cancer, loss of loved ones, miscarriage and breakups). However, as a leader – if you understand that there are these invisible forces at play, you’re much more likely to take it easy on a wayward team member.

As leaders, we should seek ways to remove whatever is holding a team member back from being motivated in the first place, and this is how you invest in people. Your time, your thought energy and the conversations that you have are all ways to invest time in people. I have been guilty of cutting team members away that I thought were beyond help. Only to find out that in years to come they had been the team members that other leaders had sung their praises as driving forces on their mission. Part of investing in your team members is to keep notes on them. No one should have a span of command so large that they can’t keep a leadership notebook, a page of notes, on their team members. This would contain birthday, partners names, kids names, pet names, sports and hobbies. Each month a paragraph on their performance and behaviours and alignment with the corporate values. The notes are private and not to be shared, but it keeps you connected with the individual, and this effort is called LEADERSHIP.

In summary…

So I have talked about the things to stop doing, start doing, and keep doing in 2021 — the leadership rule of threes. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again – leadership is an energy transference. The more energy you put in as a leader, the better the return.

The foundation of leadership is influence, and purpose, motivation and direction are how you gain that influence.

  1. We need to stop doing things that make the operating environment uncertain for our team members.
  2. We need to start creating a culture of positivity, and
  3. We need to keep empowering our team members and ourselves to learn.

This rule of threes might seem simple – but it’s like leadership, all the theories work well in a vacuum, but the minute you add inherently messy humans to the equation it becomes much more complex.

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