On my 40th birthday, my office colleagues gave me one of the best birthday surprises ever; a written dedication to me which stated Charles Erwin Wilson’s famous quote “a great boss makes his men realise they have more ability than they think they have so that they certainly do better work than they thought they could do”. This challenged me greatly and I have tried to define my leadership by this standard. I must confess that I am still a long way off this mark, but that birthday message (which I was to learn, Mina Quist – Therson, then an Associate and now an Associate Partner masterminded) continues to provide me with the greatest motivation to invest in others.
Very much like most of you reading this article, every now and again I spend time with myself to get to know me a little better. Each time I am amazed by what I learn – sometimes simply a realization of truths I was afraid to embrace, sometimes the discovery of a new dimension to who I am.
One recurring insight from my reflections is that you cannot truly have the “audacity” to lead and bring out the best in others, if you are not prepared to also demand of yourself what you encourage and sometimes push them to become. In the last couple of months, I have questioned myself about what kind of leader I am- how I got to become Managing Partner of AB & David, how and whether I have impacted the people that I have led. I have had several conversations with myself which always leads me to the importance of self-leadership to lead others well. I know without a doubt that this year and going forward, whether I lead well be will be largely hinged on the changes I make to ME.
Leading: It’s About Being and Doing
Leadership is often described in terms of what a leader does, rarely who a leader is. And when we say that an organization’s people are the most important assets, it includes the leader ‘being’ a good leader, bringing humanity to the workplace and not just designing and delivery strategy’ It’s about caring about people, leading by example and helping people achieve what they wouldn’t have thought possible. That is certainly a high bar to aim for but leadership is a lifetime journey, a leader grows and evolves as long as they don’t think at any point that they have ‘arrived’. A lot of us like to think that who we are now is enough to do the job, that the applause we got yesterday for what we did yesterday should keep sounding, and be enough to spur us on for what we need to do today. That we are too seeped in our ways to make any changes- that your colleagues should just accept that this is who you are! But that doesn’t always cut it. We have to constantly appraise ourselves as leaders to enable us develop into the leader who is relevant and ready for the mandate they have.
Self-Coaching as a Leader
Vera Ng’oma in her book Self Chat, states that “Your self-portrait determines how you carry yourself, what you believe you deserve and can achieve” Leading self requires that you have open conversations with yourself. Re-appraise those strengths that have served you and minimize the weaknesses that hold you back. Most challenging is handling attributes that are strengths in one scenario and not so much in another. It was a eureka moment when I realised that there are good and bad sides to every good trait. For example, a person can be admired for their meticulousness but that same attention to detail can become an unhealthy desire for perfection. It struck me that a commitment to perfection can easily slide into a certain level of intolerance of those who know when good enough is good enough.
That conversation also led me to re-think my strengths that if not carefully managed could flip into some form of weaknesses. Some flaw that has the potential to derail your greatness, to limit you to make you less successful than you could potentially become. As leaders, we can delude ourselves into thinking that the people we are leading don’t know what your latent weaknesses are because we “poker face” through our challenges as you lead but truth is our people know when we are struggling. I believe that if as leaders we create an atmosphere of trying, learning, growing and exemplifying, there’ll be no need for anyone including ourselves as leaders to pretend we have it all figured out. That said, this is not a free pass to make mistakes anyhow. Leading is about being the standard bearer but accepting that as a human being, you’ll falter here and there but will be quick to recover because others are looking up to you.
Whilst you need to bring your strength to your leadership everyday so that your people can stay the course with you, manage your weaknesses so that they don’t people negatively,
Boss Your Doubt and Fear Around
Doubt and fear come to all of us, yes even leaders. Unfortunately you don’t as a leader have the luxury of not pushing forward because you are afraid or doubtful. Leading yourself means that you also have to conquer your fears. Drag me to an escalator, bring a reptile close to me and I’ll not be a pretty sight! At least, that’s physical and I can run away and I almost always do. What is most debilitating are the fears that we feel within, the ways if we allow to remain can wreck us and our leadership- fear of making a mistake, fear of failure, fear that we are not good enough.
We need to remember that we can corrode that fear through building our capacity to perform our role, by expelling seeds of fear before they overwhelm us. The more negativity and fear you allow to take root the more negativity and fear you coagulate in your mind until you are disabled from performing in the way you have the potential to.
Enabling People to Blossom
Leading is about growing people to flourish. When you develop people, they in turn develop the business. Remember to validate the people you work with. Oprah Winfrey in her last show shared that in the 30,000 people she had interviewed over 25 years, all of them had one thing in common, they wanted validation. Some of the greatest people I have had the privilege of working with today were not on the “honor roll”. Through hard work/dedication and the validation of team leaders and members, they have become some of the firm’s greatest assets.
I am excited about the promise that re-molding myself will present to me and the people I work and interact with. Let’s lead ourselves more intentionally and we all will be amazed by the new “US” that will emerge and the great “OTHERS” we will help nurture and develop. That’s my greatest leadership challenge for 2020, I encourage you to make it yours too!
Isabel Boaten – AB & David – Ghana