I was starting a new position and had heard about the General Manager’s reputation. He had grown up in his career running manufacturing facilities and had a tough-guy type of approach to leadership. In his new General Manager role, he was leading a corporate function, which required a different leadership style. I remember having that nervous-stomach feeling, not knowing what I was going to face when we met. I also remember fearing making a mistake because I didn’t know how he would react or how I should deal with him in those situations.
This tough guy leadership style permeated his subordinate and peer relationships, which began to create problems. He was not aware of the effects of his approach and had never really learned how to flex his leadership style for different situations or environments. Human Resources began to work with him to improve his interpersonal effectiveness.
Flip the Mirror
This is the time of year when managers sit down with employees to review their performance and set new goals for the coming year. Reviews include the achievement of hard goals and progress on areas of soft or technical skill development. Managers expect employees to take these reviews seriously, setting the direction for their focus and achievement during the year.
Leaders also need to take this annual review time seriously for themselves. Once they reach a certain level in their career, many leaders feel like they’ve learned all there is to learn and have it all figured out. Like making New Year’s resolutions each January, the annual review process is a good time to hit the reset button and take a fresh look in the mirror. Similar to my previous manager, many leaders are oblivious to the improvements they should make.
Most leaders work hard to meet their performance goals, the “what”, because they are rewarded on these goals. But, many often forget that the “how” also is a part of the leadership equation. “How” you lead is as important as, if not more important than, the performance goals you achieve today. Your “how” has a lasting impact on the people in the organization and their willingness and ability to contribute at their highest levels toward the success of the organization long-term. The ability to be an effective leader requires that you are aware of your natural tendencies, how to be flexible in the variety of situations you face, how to constructively influence others, and how to build a trusted and respected reputation that makes others want to follow.
Recharge Your ‘How’
The best way to recharge is to gain visibility into your areas of greatest opportunity. Make sure you’re open to feedback; nobody’s perfect. There’s always room for improvement. Be a lifelong learner.
- Request 360° feedback from senior leaders, peers, subordinates and even external constituencies, such as customers or suppliers. Solicit feedback from people who will be honest, thoughtful, and detailed with examples. Promise that you will not retaliate, no matter what you hear. Make sure the process is objective and confidential.
- Take advantage of assessments that provide objective insight into your behavioral style, motivations, leadership style, and business acumen. These assessments can pinpoint strengths and development areas, and suggest strategies to optimize them.
- Thoughtfully assess yourself, but be honest. Reflect on “how” you accomplish your goals, your working relationships, your influence in the organization, and influence on subordinate or peer performance. Ask yourself, “What impact does my style have on my team’s ability to work well together and achieve our goals?”
As you review the feedback you receive, summarize the themes. What did you hear most frequently? What were people most passionate about? What surprised you?
Assessment is only the first step. The next step is to determine what actions you will take. Establish goals for the coming year that include “how” objectives and actions. Make a list of “stop”, “start”, and “continue” actions. An accountability partner, such as a mentor, can help you with specific development areas and give you objective feedback on your progress.
Time to recharge.