The demands of leadership create a gap between the way you now work and the way you must work to move ahead. The gap is filled with self-doubt, indecisiveness, and ego. In such a situation, you may feel compelled to do things the old way—the way you would have done things in the old comfort zone—but this often leads to a defeat. To move forward and grow, you must confront the unfamiliar and unknown, step into your fears, and work your way through to the solution.
Use the following seven principles to sharpen your leadership skills:
- Get clear on your direction. Direction—where you want to end up— provides purpose, energy, hope, and a criterion for making decisions. Stress causes many people to lose sight of direction. Imagine how you would like your work and life to be in five years. What are you doing? Who is around you? Where are you? What are you proud of? Being well-defined on direction helps you get through the uncertainties of your work. Likewise, your business needs clear direction. It is easier for people to move forward if they are clear on their mission, vision, goals, and priorities. By sharing the objective, you can create the alignment needed to get commitment. Clear direction provides the energy needed to overcome obstacles.
- Step into your incompetence. In leadership, your success hinges on doing things you are not yet good at. Leaders may not have the answers, but they are adept at finding the answers and then moving forward with courage. One way to push yourself is to sign up for projects that force you to widen, extend, and absorb new skills. Ask others on the team to hold you accountable for your results. Use the experience to grow. In business, look for avenues for expansion. What risks do you need to take? Can your managers be encouraged to become more farsighted, and yet can your leaders manage well. Can you enhance a current service or product? Have you been avoiding growth? Stretch your capabilities to better meet the needs of consumers.
- Revisit your values. If you were to lose your title, office, home and car, who would you be? What would you still have? Some people feel empty when the external trappings are gone. They so engross themselves in their work that they forget what they stand for and what are important to them. Values—including integrity, financial stability, family, meaningful work, and personal development—play a key role in defining who you are. You need to get clear on your values so you can stay true to yourself when you face problematic decisions. You must also inspect how your behaviors support your values. If you value honesty, for example, you need to behave honestly even when you would benefit from dishonesty. A company needs values as well. Businesses that are confused about their values won’t survive. Identify the values your company stands for and then examine how you display those values to your customers and other stakeholders. When you align values and actions, your company will grow.
- Develop a learning mindset. Do you see obstacles as burdens, inconveniences, or opportunities? Your mindset plays a big role in your success. The “oh no” leaders view everything as a personal attack, and so they spend their time protecting themselves and blaming others. The “oh well” leaders take challenges in stride and keep working, but they overlook the long-term benefits of the experience. The “oh wow” leaders respond to the event with interest and learning. They ask “why” and “how” questions, using the expertise to learn and improve themselves. Strive to be an “oh wow” leader and apply what you learn from challenges to your business. Encourage everyone on your team to develop the same mindset. You don’t need to become a different person to become a more successful leader—you got to just learn and evolve. There are times when we do really need to contemplate on the bad things that happen to us, to cognize their significance, to come to terms with our feelings, and to learn and grow from our experiences.
- Maintain and develop relationships. In times of stress, many leaders tend to ignore key relationships in their lives. Plan time for friends and family. A greeting card, a walk in the park, or a considerate gift can do wonders. Creating moments with friends, family, and colleagues can nourish and sustain you through a challenge or difficult decision. The best leaders recognize which ones they need to focus on and which ones they can delegate. Encourage your team to follow your lead in cultivating relationships frequently by maintaining contact with co-workers, customers, suppliers, and partners. Make yourself accessible to your team. Losing good employees and customers comes at high cost.
- Increase your knowledge and skills. Learning new skills and increasing your knowledge can lift you out of tough situations. Develop communication, problem-solving, and resiliency skills. Learn how to lead change, how to allocate, delegate, and make your team accountability, how to build constructive communications, and how to set the direction. Learning is not just about books and classrooms. Leaders need their people to add ideas, provide different perspectives, and confront them. Some of the best learning occurs on the job. Your business must incessantly learn as well—everyone will need to know how to develop new skills. Give team members the time to work together or bring in an individual coach. Consider a retreat to address leadership issues.
- Take action. Leadership is not just vision—it is a vision that can be executed. Proactively making decisions and moving forward in spite of uncertainty requires courage. Many leaders spend so much time fighting their own situation and avoiding their key responsibilities that they never lead. Recognize the issues you are avoiding, confront them, and then take action to overcome them. If you make a mistake, learn from it and start over again.