How Are You Showing Up as a Leader?
SO YOU’VE DECIDED to get serious about working on your leadership game. That’s great—given everything that’s going on in the world today, you’ve made a wise choice to continue developing your skills. But how should you begin this journey? Here’s a hint: How about finding out what others think of you as a leader? While you’re excited about your own development, the fact is there are lots of other people who have something to gain if you improve your leadership skills—people such as your peers, your boss, and most important, your team members. How about checking in with them to see how you’re showing up as a leader? Seems like a logical place to start, right? In fact, asking others for feedback is the “start” square on the game board of leadership development.
As you consider which areas to work on, ask the people around you for input. How are they experiencing your leadership? What’s working for them? What’s not working? How do they feel about your ability to guide the team in the right direction? What suggestions do they have for taking your skills to the next level? If you’re sincere about soliciting and listening to their feedback, they’ll tell you what you need to work on.
But it’s not just others that you need to consult—you need to have a few honest conversations with yourself, too. Where has your career taken you? What have you learned along the way? What opinions have you formed that are helping you to succeed or, maybe, setting you up for a fall? What do you do really well, and what do you know you still need to develop? Can you trust yourself to diligently work on new behaviors, or are you going to need some assistance? What about the quality of your relationships? Where do you have opportunities to leverage the people around you for support on this journey?
This section of the book helps you find the answers to these questions. Start by inviting others to give you feedback and by reflecting on your own leadership brand (i.e., how others perceive you as a leader). If you want to break out and take charge of your own leadership development, this is the place to start. Take a deep breath, keep an open mind, and start pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps!
Where Have You Been?
Document Your Leadership Journey
“IF YOU DON’T KNOW where you’re going, any road will take you there.” I love this quote, not only because it’s supposed to get you moving if you’re stuck, but also because it screams, “Get organized, and have a plan!” This is great advice whether you’re planning a trip or your own leadership development. Any significant journey worth taking is worth planning. Let’s pretend you’re taking a six-month sabbatical to climb Mount Everest. You wouldn’t dream of tackling this adventure without a lot of planning, right? You also wouldn’t plan this trip without looking back at what you’ve learned from other high-peak ascents, both successful and unsuccessful. You’re going to need every bit of that experience to make this climb, so you better take stock of your lessons learned. The fact is that looking back can help you see the next adventure more clearly.
The same is true when it comes to planning the next step in your journey of leadership self-discovery. One of the first things you should do is reflect on where you’ve been as a leader. Are you doing this on a regular basis? Are you reflecting on your lessons learned? You should be; the leader who doesn’t learn from his or her mistakes is doomed to repeat them. What were the critical moments that shaped you as a manager? How did you react? What did you do well, and what could you have done better? How did
others respond to you? When did you start to feel like a true leader? Most important, what did you learn from these moments?
Leadership is definitely a personal experience; the lessons you learn may be common ones, but the specifics of each situation make your leadership story unique. All of us can remember critical incidents that shaped us as leaders—times when we learned from a mistake or stepped up in a big way. Maybe it was standing up to a boss when you knew you were right. Maybe it was failing to pull the trigger on a bad hire or supporting an employee who turned out to be a star. Or maybe it was really listening to feedback and recognizing that you needed to change your leadership style.
Some lessons involve other people and can reveal patterns, such as failing to leverage peers or build relationships. Other lessons involve your own judgment—a fateful read of the strategy that leads to poor decisions or opportunities seized because you were willing to take a calculated risk. Your career is filled with times when you made the right call, did the right thing, or learned a difficult lesson. These are the touchstones of your life as a leader, the milestones along your leadership path. Your own leadership journey provides tremendous insight into how you should continue developing as a leader. In other words, where you’ve been can help clarify where you need to go. By reflecting on your lessons learned, you can build a development plan that optimizes your remaining growth areas.
Write Your Own Leadership Journey
There is an easy way to document your lessons and build your leadership story. Start with your first leadership role, when you first began to manage people. Write down the company, your job title, and the time frame you were in the role. Remember when you got your first direct report to manage? Were you excited about
the opportunity? Maybe a little intimidated by the responsibility? You probably did several things right; but you might have made a few mistakes, too—first-time supervisors usually do. Think back to that job. What were the two or three most critical incidents that happened in that role, and what were the most profound learnings from those experiences? Write them down. Take the time to really think about the experience, but capture the essence of the lesson in a few simple words. Now, go on to your next role and repeat the process. At the end of this exercise, you should have traced your entire career as a leader and recorded your critical incidents and lessons learned along the way (see Figure 1
Put your leadership story on a PowerPoint slide or practice telling it from memory. Share it with your boss, your peers, and your team. If you have a large organization, share it with your entire department in an all-hands meeting. Sharing your leadership journey allows you to model three powerful leadership tools at once: reflection, storytelling, and lifelong learning. Take your audience through your career, and tell the stories that have molded your leadership philosophy. Stories make your lessons come alive and cast you in a favorable light, as they generally involve you having learned from mistakes. Share your journey with pride—these are lessons that have had a profound impact on you, and sharing them candidly demonstrates that you’re open to learning from the lessons that lie ahead.
In my career, I’ve helped dozens of leaders create and present their leadership journeys, and the process has been beneficial every time. People love the framework because it helps them establish authenticity, which is critical for leaders. The process is particularly effective with leaders who have a reputation for being “hard to read” because the personal journey tends to showcase them as regular people. Sometimes, the leaders I work with are reluctant to build a robust story; they think they’re bragging about their background or, worse yet, aren’t proud of some of their career
choices. The fact is, your journey is your journey—those are the stops you made along the way. Don’t apologize for them. Every experience helped shape who you are today. Besides, the more important stories involve critical incidents and lessons learned—the very instances you should emphasize and use to grab the audience’s attention.
By studying where you’ve been, and what you’ve learned, you can better chart the course of your future development. What leadership lessons do you still need to learn? What traps do you want to avoid? What experiences do you need to add to your story? Reflect on your own journey by writing and telling your leadership story, and you’ll create a more vivid roadmap for self-development going forward.
Document Your Leadership Journey
1. Create your own leadership story by mapping your critical experiences and lessons learned. Pick out the memorable moments and be specific.
2. Share your leadership journey with others—practice telling your story.
3. Use the past to plan the future—what do you still need (and want) to learn?
Build a Spider Web
Evaluate Your Working Relationships
WORK IS BASICALLY A SERIES of relationships. Everyone you work with represents a distinct connection, and collectively your connections represent your working network. Because networks are fluid, every time you interact with someone you have a chance to build a stronger relationship, and when you meet someone new, you have the opportunity to add to your network. A strong network can help advance your career. So are you doing everything you can to build your network? What’s that? You’re too busy to work on your professional network? I used to say that too. I was focused on getting work done, not meeting or reconnecting with colleagues and peers. I didn’t have time for people that weren’t in my immediate line of sight. But that’s a mistake that can have major consequences. We all need to pay attention to our networks, because we never know when we’re going to need them.
Every day you have dozens of chances to turn acquaintances into colleagues, colleagues into friends, and friends into true business partners that will help you succeed. There’s no question about it—relationships matter, especially for leaders who have to get things done. The more high-quality relationships you have, the more effective you’ll be as a leader. You need these people to be successful, because you can’t wave a magic wand and invent an entirely new
network (unless of course you leave your job and start fresh elsewhere—but that’s a subject for a future chapter).
Assess the Quality of Your Relationships
Here’s a simple exercise to assess the quality of your relationships, and in turn, determine where you have work to do to further your development as a leader. Draw the following web diagram on a large sheet of paper: Write your name in the middle of a rectangle and draw five increasingly larger rings around it on the page. Label the outermost ring “Excellent” and the corresponding rings (moving toward the center of the page) as follows: “Very Good,” “Good,” “OK,” and “Poor.” Now, consider the people you know and place them somewhere on the diagram. Go deep into your network when doing this exercise; list everyone you can think of. The typical leader might have up to forty or fifty names on the diagram. Your best friend with whom you eat lunch every day goes on the “Excellent” ring. You seem to have clicked with that new colleague—put her on the “Good” ring for now. The manager in your department that you always seem to be competing with—be honest, you probably could improve that relationship; better put him in the “Poor” category. That vendor that has helped build your internal reputation goes in the “Very Good” ring. The key to this exercise is to be brutally honest with yourself; don’t overinflate your ratings.
As you add names to the web, do so in three different colors. Use one color for operational relationships, to indicate those colleagues you work with on a regular basis. These would include people on your own teams, within your department, and so on. Use another color to indicate strategic relationships—people within the organization that you interact with to get things done (those in Purchasing, Finance, HR, Business Development, etc.). Finally, use a third color for external business relationships (partners, vendors, customers, clients, etc.). After you’ve added all of your
existing relationships, list the people in the company that you should know but don’t. Maybe you have a casual “hi in the hallways” relationship or know who they are but just haven’t met them yet. Write their names in the far corners of the page, without plotting them on the web (after all, you don’t have a relationship with them yet).
What Is the Web Diagram Telling You?
Once finished, step back and analyze the diagram for trends and patterns. Where do you have the strongest relationships? If it’s in the operational area, you may be overly comfortable within your own functional area and may not be stretching your network across the organization. If it’s in the strategic area, you’re influencing well throughout the company, but you may struggle a bit over direction, philosophy, and so forth within your own group. If it’s in the external business area, then you’re clearly focused outside the enterprise, which may mean you’re more comfortable establishing relationships at a distance or have strong relationships from previous roles. Note the number of relationships that are just “OK” or “Poor.” What can you do to improve these relationships? Make a specific action plan for each relationship, with a goal of moving each one at least one ring farther out in the next thirty days. Where do you want to establish relationships that don’t exist today? Make a specific plan to meet those people or work with them on a project, for example. For both action plans, indicate how adding or improving these relationships will make you a better leader.
If you’re not looking at your work relationships as a resource, you should be. Relationships need to be nurtured and developed, like any other skill or asset. This is not something you’re going to learn in a class or read in a book, and the organization isn’t going to do it for you. Establishing and nurturing relationships is something you have to do. As you think about developing yourself as a
leader, you’re going to lean on these people for help and feedback. Look at the web as a metaphor for the strength of your leadership brand—the stronger your relationships, the stronger your reputation as a leader is likely to be across the organization.
Assess the quality of your relationships and make a concerted effort to improve the most critical ones lower on the scale. This simple process might be the most important self-evaluation exercise you do all year. Because while you’re busy pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, it doesn’t hurt to have a strong network of colleagues pulling with you!
Evaluate Your Working Relationships
1. Plot the quality of your relationships. Be honest—place people where they really belong on the diagram.
2. YOU are responsible for investing in and managing your relationships. Strive to move the lowest rated relationships out one ring in the next thirty days.
3. Do this exercise once a year, and set goals for adding new names to the diagram.
Spin Around in a Circle
Make 360° Feedback Work for You
HAVING CAPTURED YOUR LEADERSHIP lessons and analyzed your working relationships, you’re ready to take the next step: gathering feedback from others on how they’re experiencing your leadership. Do you know what others think of your leadership style? What are your strengths and opportunities as a leader? How do others really feel about working for you? Do you know the answers to these questions? You may think you do. But there’s only one way to find out for sure. There’s an old leadership adage that says “If you want to know how well you’re leading, turn around and see if anyone’s following you.” You’ll never get the full picture of your leadership if you’re always looking forward. From time to time, you need to turn around and make sure your people are still behind you. And while you’re at it, try to get a sense of their feelings about your leadership.
This is the idea behind the greatest leadership assessment tool ever invented: 360° feedback. The 360° process involves a formal collection of input from your direct reports, peers, and managers on your leadership style and behaviors. The feedback is generally gathered using a quantitative survey, and most 360° tools involve the solicitation of written comments, which are usually presented anonymously. The data and the written comments are compiled into a comprehensive, personalized report (generally
by a professional consulting firm), which is then given to you and debriefed, typically by...