by Peggy Huston
[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Peggy Huston, Leadership Coach at MOR Associates. Peggy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
What makes a great leader? I posted this question in a Google search and received a long list of important traits for a great leader, such as integrity, good communication, agility, influence, empathy, courage, respect, knowledge, etc. While all of these are important, what I don’t see in my search is self-awareness of being a leader. This seems obvious, and perhaps it is assumed. However, many of us landed in our first leadership role not because of our leadership skills, but because someone recognized our potential. It was then up to us to make the transition. Great leadership begins with the individual recognizing that they are a leader and continuously improving upon being the leader they aspire to be.
Based on my own experience, I describe the process of becoming a leader as evolutionary. I started my career as a leader by adding actions that were identified as the leader’s responsibility to a long list of activities that I was already doing. I thought strategically about the task at hand, but I did not have time to think beyond the immediate demands. And while I had strengths in leading project teams, I was not focused on my long-term development or that of my teammates. It was not until I learned the concept of leadership development that I began to realize that the leaders I admired were not born with the knowledge and skills that made them a great leader. They had put in the time and effort to develop their skills. More importantly, they had discovered their superpower was the self-awareness of being a leader. This was a shift in mindset for me and was the beginning of a change in how I performed as a leader.
There are a few foundational tools that assisted me in launching off on this new path. They continue to serve me as I evolve at both being a leader and acting as a leader. They are tools that I bring out regularly so that I am being intentional about increasing my self-awareness as a leader and focusing on my ongoing growth. I use them to reflect and adjust to keep on track toward a future vision which is evolving.
Presence. It was a big ah-hah moment for me when I was invited to consider presence as a tool in my toolkit. Whether or not I feel like being a leader all the time, when I am in the role, I am on stage. How I show up, the words I use, and the things I do all have an impact on the people and the organization. This now feels so obvious. Until then, I may have said “I am the leader,” but I had not embodied “I am the leader.” Based on this lesson, I reflect and plan before entering a room or a Zoom. I check-in and consider: what is the purpose of the meeting; what is my role; how do I want to show up; what are the desired outcomes; and how will I interact with the other participants?
Leading, Managing, Doing. Assessing how I spend my time, and how I want to spend my time, across the three roles was quite revealing. I was unaware that I was doing a lot of managing and that I was doing little leading. This brought up a question for me: “If I am not leading, who is?” I use this assessment regularly because how I spend my time may change due to internal and external factors. The shift may happen slowly over time if I am not paying attention, I may slipped back to spending too much time in the weeds and not enough time up in the balcony. When I find the distribution of my time is not where I want it to be to achieve my goals, I reflect on what has changed. I identify strategies to get myself back on track to spend the time I should be spending being the leader.
Feedback. Feedback is a tool that has steadily grown in value for me over time. The more I seek feedback, the more comfortable I am with accepting it. The more I accept and incorporate feedback, the better the outcomes. I do not use all feedback, but I do try to consider it all. Feedback serves me well, including strengthening relationships, understanding what is most important to my boss, and learning what is working well and what is not working well from others’ perspectives. When I reflect on significant changes I have made in how I think and act as a leader, most of those changes came about as a result of receiving feedback. Without feedback, I am using only one lens, my lens, which means that I don’t really know if I am progressing toward my goals. Feedback is truly a gift to achieve the growth I desire, and I make it a regular practice to seek it.
Reflection. Taking time on a regular basis to reflect is critical to achieve not only the leader I aspire to be, but the person I aspire to be. Reflecting on the pivotal moments in my life that affected me, the people that influenced me, and my values and principles are all opportunities to learn and increase my self-awareness. I use a weekly reflection and planning to think about short term goals: what did I set out to accomplish last week; where was I successful and why; where I did not achieve my expectations and why; what are my goals for the next week; and how will I use what I learned to step up. I also pause to think longer term on occasion, to reflect on my history and where I am headed. It is through my journey that I can see my evolution as a leader. Getting up on the balcony to look way back also enables me to imagine the future. Reflection is a powerful tool that enables me to step away from my habitual way of doing and to gain the most benefit from my learning experiences as I move forward.
It is my desire to be a great leader that has motivated me to increase my self-awareness, to have a growth mindset, and to view challenges as opportunities. When I reflect on my journey, it’s not the project deliverable that I consider success, it’s the way I showed up as a leader. The greatest reward is to have a former report reflect on how much they learned, their appreciation of their teammates, and the fun they had in the process. It is the reward that enables me to embody a mindset of being a leader, and the mindset that enables the reward.
|This Week’s Survey
How does it feel when you state, ‘I am a leader?’
|From Last Week
Last week we asked: Which of the following are you most inclined toward?
Our growth and development goals as leaders are varied given the uniqueness of our own individual leadership journeys and our strengths and opportunities as leaders. That said, a common thread to our varied journeys is the importance of soliciting and receiving feedback. For any type of the growth we are seeking, feedback is a powerful tool to help shape that growth and understand its trajectory, whether or not that involves a mentor. Additionally, getting more involved outside of our direct areas is a way to enable our strengths to shine as well as hone opportunities for our growth, all while building the relationships needed to achieve our strategically important goals.