What comes to mind when you think about leadership responsibility? Taking charge? Casting vision? Setting strategy? Getting results? Every time I get to ask this question in a workshop setting, the list gets long very quickly.
Let’s make it more personal with this sobering question: are the people you lead better or worse off because of you? What is the experience of each person on the other end of your leadership?
Since there are so many leadership responsibilities, let’s focus on just a few that have enormous implications for the people in our wake.
We’ve probably all complained at one time or another that “management” makes arbitrary decisions and doesn’t understand the impact on the day-to-day work. But then one day we’re put in charge and have to figure it out. By definition, decision-making involves uncertainty and risk. Leaders are responsible for applying not only their insights and fact-based evidence – they must seek to understand the implications at the frontline – and especially at the point of customer interaction.
Feedback is tricky business – especially when it’s negative. Many times we jump straight in and give abrasive feedback off the cuff or we feel intimidated and don’t give feedback that is truly necessary. Both approaches make a situation worse. It helps to remember there is a real, live person on the other end of our feedback. A curt, one-sided exchange may feel efficient in the moment but create more work and resistance in the long-run than taking the time to have a thoughtful interaction.
Your Commitment to Growth
What got you to where are now won’t get you to the next opportunity. Leaders either grow or they slow. The tricky part is that the more responsibilities a leader takes on, the less time they usually have available to sharpen the saw without being disciplined and intentional. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to chart your growth.
Leaders tell the truth. Of course it’s not always appropriate to disclose 100% of the information to 100% of the stakeholders in 100% of the situations. But leaders go out of their way to tell their followers what they need to know without making them wait any longer than is necessary. It’s very hard to maintain credibility when followers think you’re hiding something. It’s nearly impossible to maintain credibility after your actions don’t match your words.
In The Five Dysfunctions of Team, bestselling author Patrick Lencioni says that a leader demonstrating vulnerability is one of the best ways to build trust on a team. That means admitting where he messed up or needs help. It’s always difficult to say I’m sorry and no one wants to appear incompetent. But keep in mind, none of these revelations come as a surprise to the people on the other end of your leadership. Appropriate vulnerability builds credibility rather than erodes it.
Ultimately, skill can make you leader but it’s character that will sustain you. Unfortunately, skills come much more easily than character. Think about it, would you rather have an employee who lacked skill or who lacked character? Your character is the sum total of the embodiment of your values. It’s not enough to have positive aspirations, character comes through both in the daily grind and the crucible.
Remember, everyone watches the leader. Being a leader is like interviewing for your dream job – every single day. Some days are better than others, but at the end of the day, each person on the other end of our leadership deserves our very best.