If you’ve gotten past the title without choking on your warm office beverage of choice, you’re probably thinking something like:
1. Are you kidding? You’ve clearly never met [colleague/boss/archenemy]!
2. Don’t think so. People either have natural leadership ability or they don’t. If you don’t have the right wiring, it doesn’t matter.
3. Look, I’ve tried hard and made progress, but I can point to any number of areas where I wouldn’t consider myself “highly effective.”
I’ve worked with thousands of leaders over the past twenty-five years. Based on that experience, I firmly believe almost anyone* can become a highly effective leader. Regardless of default leadership abilities – the combination of natural wiring and how someone was parented/taught/led up to now – everyone can get better as a leader. It just takes the right mindset and tools. (* rare exceptions for people with serious mental wellness problems. And no, I’m not talking about your last boss.)
To be a highly effective leader, you’ll need both an internal drive - the mindset - and an external framework – the tools - for results.
The internal drive is made up of three action-oriented conditions:
· A deep desire for better results. If you cannot picture any difference between where you are and where you want to be, nothing will change. (Hint: this difference is usually easier to see a few years out rather than today. By picturing how a change will affect what you care about most in, say, five years, you can usually find the energy to start changing now.)
· A willingness to learn and change your own behavior. If you can experiment with doing things differently and then be open to feedback, you can get better. Perhaps it’s human nature to try to avoid making mistakes, yet I’ve always found the lessons I learn from making mistakes define me more than when I “get lucky” and succeed the first time.
· A bias for action. Despite millions of health books and videos sold each year in the United States, public health data show obesity steadily increasing. It’s clearly not enough just to know how to do things – you must get into action and apply your thinking to get results.
Without these, there’s no point in embarking on leadership improvement. I used to think that these three conditions were all leaders needed. However, over the past decade I‘ve discovered to become truly effective leaders, people also need:
A comprehensive and practical framework for leadership that works in the real world.
Without an overarching framework, many leaders end up trying different techniques. These techniques can often conflict with each other. And without a clear and consistent set of coordinated actions, leaders find themselves treating symptoms, not finding and solving the root causes.
I wrote Ripple: A Field Guide for Leadership That Works to provide my clients – and you – that comprehensive framework. It starts with self-leadership (knowing yourself deeply and getting into action as a leader), moves through interpersonal leadership (how you respect and enable others to succeed), and finishes at organizational leadership (how you design and tweak the system to enable effective results efficiently).
Most people in leadership positions start working on efficiency (results!) in the organization first. When that doesn’t work, they backtrack to effectiveness (let’s reorg), then to positively enabling others (ah, you need the right resources to do the work), and then to respecting others (silly me, I didn’t realize you have different talents than mine).
If these efforts still aren’t working, things get uncomfortable. If we’re honest with ourselves, we start asking: “As a leader, am I in action about what matters? And if not, could it be that I don’t understand myself enough to get out of my own way?”
It begins with you
From my experience, you will get the best results by starting with yourself, then learn to work well with others, and together you can optimize your organization. All we need to do to kick off this positive chain reaction is to change ourselves.
Relatively simple, yet as Marshall Goldsmith says, changing behavior is one of the most difficult things for adults to do. Why? As adult humans, we believe we are highly competent and effective. We often wrap our self-esteem around this perception of competence. To get better, we have to admit that, in some way, we’re not as competent as we thought. Yet, we can only admit that if we make it through denial and confusion – our internal barriers that keep us in our place of comfort and known competence – first.
The good news is that with the right mindset and level of willingness, along with some hard work and an overarching structure that works, you too can hurdle your own barriers and train yourself to be a highly effective leader.
So – what are you waiting for?