Turning the three leadership development practices I describe below into habits will boost the impact of your leadership to a new level – guaranteed!
1. Always be truthful to yourself
Always, always, always, be yourself. Never attempt to imitate or mimic anyone. No matter how successful someone might be, never try to emulate them.
Contrary to some populist assertions, doing so will never work to your advantage. If anything, it will cloud your true identity, suppress your capacity for self-expression and spontaneity, and eventually damage your image and reputation. In fact, in some instances, it might even lead you to great confusion and depression.
In advocating that you be yourself, I am not undermining the worth of role models. A role model is someone you admire for certain qualities (e.g. foresight, integrity, honesty, decisiveness, directness of approach, etc.). Role models should be used to inspire and guide you, and set standards you aspire to. Just take care never to attempt to clone yourself in the image of anyone else.
If you’re an aspiring or upcoming leader, let your own style emerge naturally, guided by your values, goals and mentor. Finding your true identity can take time – this is normal.
By the way, this does not mean that you can’t accomplish great things along the way. In fact, based on my personal and professional experience, my view is that finding your identity is a lifelong journey.
In reality, being truthful to yourself is not always easy work. It takes self-awareness, commitment, courage and perseverance. That’s why the road of self-transformation is one less travelled.
Expect to encounter some doubt and confusion on the way – this is also normal. Just keep going. The secret is not to give up, while maintaining a reflective, inquisitive, self-observing and accepting mind, free from judgement.
And don’t forget, perfectionism is a leader killer!
2. Listen to your closest partner
Always listen to any partner you have had for a significant length of time – your wife, husband, lover, trusted friend, business partner, associate, peer or employee. They know you better than anyone else. And most importantly, act on their comments and suggestions.
It doesn’t matter how much you think they are wrong about you. They’re actually right. In fact, the more you dislike what they say about your shortcomings, and believe they are wrong (yes, that thing they’ve told you one million times and rising), the more likely this is a sign you need to pay attention to their perception!
So, treat their comments as ‘precious gold nuggets’, thank them for sharing them with you – and do something about yourself in response!
On a personal note, let me say that it took me a while (years!) to realize that my wife is right most of the time. And I’m not ashamed to admit that if I’d come to this realisation earlier I would have saved myself a few hiccups along the way.
3. Always be humble, generous and courageous
Being humble doesn’t mean being inauthentic or lacking confidence. It means:
- always being respectful to others and acting courteously;
- soliciting feedback and feed-forward from others regularly;
- never believing you are better than others or making that your priority;
- never believing you know everything; and
- never underestimating, belittling or blaming anyone, even if they are at fault – instead, simply ask thoughtful questions.
Never be afraid or reluctant to give to or share with others (e.g. information, knowledge, time or money) – but do it selectively and using good judgment. Remember, you can only keep what you have by giving it away! This may sound contradictory, but it’s true.
Think, for example, of the times you have taught or explained something to someone else. I bet you improved your knowledge of what you shared by reinforcing it to yourself, or seeing it from a different perspective. So, make sure you’re always mentoring someone and care about their success as if it was your own.
Be fearless and courageous by consistently doing things you find difficult or challenging.
Here are some consistent examples from many leaders I have worked with:
- do not hesitate to ask for assistance, support or collaboration when you need it – doing so is not a sign of weakness;
- make clear and direct requests to get something done;
- compliment and acknowledge others regularly – actively search for opportunities to do so;
- always tell your truth, even if it is unpopular – don’t let your need for approval, or to be liked, drive your discourse;
- always express your true feelings;
- challenge common sense and unquestioned views or assumptions;
- stand for yourself, your principles and for those you represent by putting yourself on the line when required;
- always have the tough conversations you need to have without procrastinating;
- admit your mistakes and errors of judgement – and ask for forgiveness if necessary; and
- regularly allow yourself to feel contentment and express gratitude for what you’ve got, even if you firmly believe you have earned it all by yourself.
Once you have practised the above consistently for some time and turned these leadership development practices into habits, everything will happen by default – guaranteed!
Sebastian is business psychologist. He advises and coaches CEOs and other senior Executives on building their leadership capability to succeed in the increasingly demanding global economy where hyper-complexity is the new normal.