In many ways, leadership begins with a person’s ability to look in the mirror and grab the bull by the horns. What do I mean by this? Well, in just about every organization, there is a culture of blame, I would say in the 99% range; there is always the 1% that does things well, at least from my experience. Now, I do not know every single facility that is out there, I haven’t been to them all. But from my experience, they are very rare, and it’s hard to find those that truly operate like a well-oiled machine.
The reason to say “grab the bull by the horns” is the fact that it’s a blame culture in most of these organizations. And what a blame culture does is it keeps people from taking action, due to excuses that they have made. An example would be a maintenance department saying, We cannot work on equipment because operation never gives us the time to do it.
The problem with these types of excuses is that nothing ever changes. This creates a vicious cycle of constantly blaming someone, that person blames the another, and so on all the while nothing ever gets resolved. And it actually keeps us from doing the things necessary, when all that it requires is somebody grabbing the bull by the horns.
It is the adage of asking for forgiveness, instead of asking for permission. The problem is, is when we go ask for permission most people shoot it down. We get discouraged, and we decide not to do anything with it, even if we know it is the right thing to do. What if we just go out and do it? People start jumping on the bandwagon when you start to achieve success, and you start developing a network of people, right?
And so, going out and taking action is a lot of the self-leadership piece. But the question is, how do you build the self-confidence and the competence to go out and do that? If you don’t know how to solve problems, and you don’t know how to remove obstacles and those types of things, you’re never going to have the confidence to walk into a facility and just say, This is what we’re doing.
Honestly, it does not matter what level of the organization you are, really. Leadership itself is not a title. Although titles do come with some leadership responsibilities.
But until you can learn to lead yourself, and gain those competencies and confidence necessary, you really cannot lead others, not effectively and not efficiently. We do it all the time just through promotion. And we think because we have 20 people that report to us, we are a leader, but that doesn’t make you good. Well, let’s consider what is a good leader.
Self-leadership I would define as the practice of intentionally leveling up your thinking through gaining knowledge, putting that knowledge into action creating experience, using that experience to gain wisdom, and utilizing that wisdom to gain enlightenment. This is Phase 1 of the three phases of leadership.
The way I see it
Knowledge is a collection of learning and experience. All the training, all the reading, all the implementations, all the failures, and all the successes in life provide value in the knowledge you have attained.
Wisdom is the quality of having good judgement based on your knowledge and experience. It helps you make better decisions based on past experiences, which helps to improve your quality of life.
Knowledge and wisdom are attained at Phase 1, the growth/actualization phase.
Understanding is the realization of taking action on the knowledge and wisdom that has been attained over time. Knowing what works and what does not and streamlining these successes and failures is key. Becoming a leader of understanding is the second phase or the emotional intelligence phase of development. In Phase 2, you begin to understand more of the complexities that come with leadership.
Insight is the conversion of those actions into a new and improved self. This builds the confidence needed to continue to string up success after success as well as the competence needed in knowing that you can do these things in your sleep.
In today’s world, we are so busy trying to fix others, we forget the most important requirement to success is to fix yourself. To become a leader with insight, you must be willing and able to put in the work. Insight builds self-confidence and competence, which is needed to be the change agent an organization sorely needs.
When you live successes, no one can take that from you. No matter how many people fight against the needed improvement within your organization, you will not be deterred.
We live in a generation of people who want everything in life but are willing to give nothing in return. Therefore, if you put in the work, you will be head and shoulders above the rest.
Become a leader that is effective first, then focus on efficiency. Effectiveness denotes that you are doing the right things. Efficiency is a measure of how well you do things, right or wrong. Many of us work very hard and efficiently doing what should not be done at all. For example: Spending all day in meetings instead of focusing on areas of the business that are hurting you the most and being at the source of the problem instead of in the office.
Many organizations hemorrhage money, all the while, everyone knows there is a problem, but very few seem to care enough to try to resolve it. I believe a main reason for this is that we are so consumed with the day-to-day reactivity of our jobs, that we do not take the time to prioritize what is really important for the business.
What are the right things to focus on? Effective leadership means you are making the right, sound decisions. Words are a façade; action is where the value is. Lead by taking action:
- Solve problems – Spend time out in the field, just watching the current processes. Make a list of all the things that raise questions. Spend time with those involved, asking questions as to why or how something is done the way it is, and get recommendations and ideas for others as to how to solution those problems. Then develop a plan to alleviate the problems and assign tasks to yourself and others to see those corrective actions completed.
- Remove obstacles – Many times while talking to others you will see that they have obstacles that seemingly must be removed in order for them to be successful. In most cases, these are perceived obstacles, meaning that it was just something they were once told or taught to them as a means of the current cultural tribalism. Many times, they just need permission to try things a different way with confidence that if they fail, there will be no consequence due to the failure.
- Build your network – Find others that want change and see the need and are willing to execute. Ultimately, your main goal is to show others just how amazing they are. Allow them to do what they know needs to be done to solve a problem. Support them by providing the necessary resources and sticking up for them when they get attacked by the naysayers.
- My philosophy – You are the SME. The organization hired you to do a job with the expectation that you were the one that could bring about the necessary results needed within the organization. Why do you need to wait for permission for you to act? That is why they hired you in the first place, isn’t it? In order to take action, you need to hold yourself to a higher standard. Here are three tips to help you along the way.
Tip one: Know your role and your responsibilities
The first step in creating more self-accountability is to start by taking an assessment of what your role is and what those specific responsibilities are. If you’re a father, your role and responsibilities are very different than if you’re the head of an emergency room, or if you’re a coach of a basketball team. Every area of your life can have different roles, but the responsibilities of being a father, for example, can impact the responsibilities of being an entrepreneur. You will need to think about how late nights in the office can affect missing Timmy’s baseball game into your plan.
When you’re making this list of responsibilities, you’re going to break down each broad responsibility into the specific and measurable components that combine to form the responsibility. If the components are not specific, you won’t know if you’re working toward them or not, and if they’re not measurable, you won’t know if you’re succeeding or failing.
Within each of these components that make up the responsibility, there is going to be tactical strategies that will get you closer to the goal. These will be things that will be more day-to-day, so you can take down a larger goal one piece at a time.
Tip two: Be honest with yourself
Holding yourself to a higher standard is meaningless without honesty. It can be difficult to be honest with yourself, because then you are pulling away all the excuses and rationalization that stand between you and what you want, but it is the only way forward. This is a two-part process, the first part of which is simply putting your ego aside and realize that you do not know everything. No one does, and it might be a tough pill to swallow, but you are not the exception. Having the courage to admit that you do not know everything opens the door to the second part of this process: asking for help.
If you can have a little humility and ask for help from people who have been where you are, you’ll find your growth will explode. Instead of a decade struggling on XYZ, you can find a veteran who can cut literally years off your learning curve with a few sentences.
I was taught that true wisdom is learning from others’ mistakes. This adage could not be truer today. We have a long list of people who have come before us, figured out the in’s and out’s, and made all the mistakes necessary to get where they are. Why not seek out their help?
Tip three: Develop good habits
We will talk much more about this in the section on self-discipline, but good habits are building blocks that will get you to where your personal development plan, that we built in step one, is heading. The first thing to focus on when starting to develop good habits is to remove bad ones, and one of the worst habits is creating excuses. Excuses are like layers to an onion, once you peel one excuse back, you find a new bad habit every time you look closer.
If you turn in a report at work that is full of typos and has errors that should have been caught, the excuse is “I only had 3 hours to write the report.”
If we peel that back, we see that you were not assigned the project at 1 pm, to present at 4 pm - you just failed to properly manage the much longer time you actually had for the project - and it’s very likely there was more than enough time.
Now the question is “why is your time managed so poorly?”
Are you staying up late watching TV, leaving you scrambling the morning the report is due?
Are you not serious about the job, leading to sloppy work?
Are you blaming other people for your failures?
Either way, the burden of responsibility is on you, and if you fail to hold yourself accountable, these mistakes are going to keep piling up.
You will continue to disappoint yourself, and you will continue failing to reach your goals in the personal development plan we outlined earlier in the article. The good news is that you can turn it all around. It is not easy for some people to honestly reflect on the causes of their problems, but it is the most important work that you can do.