Optimal characteristics of effective leadership are the ability to motivate, inspire and promote performance excellence. There are many traits that are included, but if these three characteristics are not present, momentum is questionable. This is true whether you are leading an entire organization, a team or your own career.
How can 2018 be your most productive and empowering year? Check out these tips that, when implemented, are potential game changers:
1. Make self-awareness your top priority.
Starting here gives direction for other goals to line up and fall in place. It is critical to start with being aware of the beliefs that drive your decisions. How do you determine who or what to include and exclude? We don’t like to talk about exclusion because it does not sound very nice, but the reality is, exclusion decisions are being made constantly. Almost any time you determine who or what to include, it is likely someone or something is being excluded. This does not mean the decision is not the best choice. It means, you and your organization will be well served if you are aware of what is driving the decision, as well as what and who is impacted when seeking a desired outcome. Identifying the outcome you want is crucial to analyze and connect the dots with the actions you decide to implement.
2. Discover what moves you forward and what holds you back.
Internal and often subliminal messages are constantly driving us, and like it or not they may be limiting in nature, and they can create self-sabotage. It is often the default response to place blame on something or someone else. Factors outside our control are real, and understanding that you can be part of a solution allows you to focus on and determine what influence you might have in a situation or problem. For example, if you are determining whether to choose something new and innovative that can set you apart as a firm or company and could make your organization an employer of choice, understanding the impact of internal and external messages is important. If you resist because the message is “we’ve always done it this way,” or “that will never work,” then the likelihood of standing out and leading the way is going to be more challenging. If you are someone focusing on your own growth and career to propel you to the next level and/or give you more satisfaction and enjoyment, be wary of internal and external messages that hold you back. It is necessary to understand how fear gets in the way.
To be effective, one must get beyond the fear of looking honestly at and talking about biases – the beliefs that drive decisions. Bias and talking about bias has become more mainstream and it is still sometimes an eye-roll producing topic. Why is that? I recently had a conversation with someone who asked if I get negative pushback about talking about bias. That happens when there are misconceptions, such as (a) biases are always negative, (b) biases are about others, and (c) there is nothing you can do about them. All 3 beliefs could not be farther from the truth.
a. Biases can be positive or negative. To prefer something (bias for) is as normal as breathing, and there is going to be a result of the choice you choose. It is common for many to stay with what is most familiar because getting out of that comfort zone is discomforting. When faced with choices, there may be a consequence for the choice you choose. If you are leading others, the importance of understanding the cause and effect of the choices made is critical. Your workforce and your organization are impacted. The real work is to honestly look at the belief and consider who and/or what is impacted. I really cannot stress this enough. Even when there is a positive intent, the impact may not be fully positive. The tricky part of exploring biases is making the unconscious (implicit) biases conscious. We don’t know what we don’t know about our internal beliefs if we do not bring them to the surface. So, how do you look at something you are not aware of in the first place? The best place to start is to pay attention to reactions, especially emotional ones that cause withdrawal or defensiveness. Question what belief you hold that caused that reaction. Then, ask yourself if it is true. More than likely, it is not true in all situations or with all people. This is important to realize. If looking at biases causes trepidation, then substitute the word “belief” and press on and explore.
b. Biases are not just about others. If you pay close attention, you may find that you have as many biases about yourself (self-beliefs) as you hold about others. Sometimes they are subtle, insidious and self-defeating, even though they are likely meant to protect. If we don’t know what we are “thinking,” we can’t address it and question the automatic thoughts that are often sabotaging beliefs. Each of the points in paragraphs 3 (a) and (c) apply to the biases about ourselves.
c. We can’t do anything about our biases because they are “hard wired” is a misconception. They may be wired into our belief system, but the idea that they are insurmountable is incorrect. The only reason that supports that you cannot do anything about them, is if you don’t want to explore or do anything and prefer to stay with the status quo (a bias that drives many leaders and organizations). The marketplace is not standing still. The search for talent and the need to recognize, maximize, retain and advance talent is always moving and very competitive. Understanding biases is the first step toward mitigating the beliefs that hamper inclusion and progress.
4. Look at perceived challenges as opportunities to create positive change.
What is one thing you want to accomplish that feels like a challenge? Identify what you want to happen. What do you need to do or change to make it happen? Who and what can be resources for you? How will it impact other areas of your life or organization? Herein lies a clue to below the surface beliefs that could get in the way. Additionally, if concerns involve other people and you are not having conversations about it, how can you expect to overcome or work through those concerns? Too often, there is fear around raising issues or even sharing desires and goals because of beliefs placed on others about how they may respond or react. This is a roadblock. Here is where you can have influence. You can clear the way by having conversations that need to be held.
5. Weave the focus, importance and benefit of diversity and inclusion into the fabric of the organization.
In my work with leaders and organizations about diversity and inclusion and creating change, initially it is not uncommon that the discussions are held with a select few because those few are the ones we think are on the same page. Roadblock again. It is critical to bring all the perspectives that need to be heard and addressed to the table for dialogue and conversation. Too often, the onus is placed on a committee, a few or even a department. And, there needs to be a willingness to courageously have those conversations with more than a select few. Each and everyone in the organization makes inclusion and exclusion decisions on a regular basis. One word of caution – and, I reiterate – it is a must to know and understand your own biases (beliefs) before going into the conversation. We are all human. We all have biases and we are not bad for having them. The travesty is sitting on the thoughts that can be destructive and staying silent rather than addressing them.
Challenge yourself for the remainder of the year to be open to the possibilities that lie ahead. Note that when you say yes to the challenge, you are standing for something that stretches you, your organization, your self-awareness and likely your sense of being, rather than standing against something that holds you in the status quo. You may be surprised to see who all will benefit.