Leadership is so much more than telling your team the vision of your organization or tasking them with completing the work that moves you in the right direction. But that hasn’t always been the case.
Not so long ago, the formal construct of leader was a title that meant authority. It was simply making decisions and telling people what to do. Or that’s what many thought.
The bar wasn’t set as high as it is now and there wasn’t as much pressure for people to feel truly fulfilled in their work. You went to work and you did the work. Thankfully, the thinking around leadership has evolved. Now we know different, better. We know that doing work you love matters and feeling fulfilled gives you more reason to work harder to reach that goal.
Because of this, leadership today is more about serving others than getting them to do what you want.
This change has come about because of a much broader change we’ve gone through, culturally and socially. Words like growth vs. fixed mindset and grit and masterminding are used regularly in management circles in an effort to give everyone a voice and the power to speak up.
Talent needs to know what your goals are and what the vision of the organization is. They need to know why this is important so they can understand why the work matters. They need to believe in the outcome.
No one likes to be told what to do. No one likes to submit expense reports because it takes valuable time away from other tasks. Team members don’t feel fully invested in a task that they don’t feel fully connected to or when they don’t see the overall value of the action.
Sure, submitting an expense report means they get reimbursed for expenses that came out of their own pockets. However, when it’s only a few dollars, team members often don’t see the point. And so they put it off.
Instead, team members need to be empowered to do the work, knowing that what they’re doing creates a bigger end result than simply checking tasks off on a project management system. For expense reports, the bigger impact on the organization is better records of time and money spent on projects–which means more efficient proposals and potentially better ROI on projects.
What is Leadership Today?
My own definition of leadership is the act of influencing others to achieve a result not solely for the purpose of satisfying your own interests. And to achieve that, you need the skills, mindset and behaviors to lead others.
Leaders today are held to a higher standard than they were in the past. They need to be able to self-regulate and manage their emotions so they can communicate better with team members. It’s not just about what they say, it’s also how they say it that’s important. It’s their responsibility as leaders to empower and motivate their team members to do the work and to do it well.
And when it’s not done right? That’s where a breakdown starts and team members withdraw. Not a good look for achieving high-level goals.
Becoming a Responsible Leader
What can a leader do to make a shift and become a leader of tomorrow, rather than a leader of yesterday? Leaders who are flexible and open to feedback and want to learn to do better are the leaders who will succeed.
- Understand where your mindset is now. Is it open or closed? Are you willing to do the work needed to become a more effective leader? If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re on the right track. Identify the fundamental assumptions you carry about leadership and understand where you stand in that space.
- Get insight from people who know you well. Ask your team members, peers, mentors, even friends and family members how you show up to others. As you do this, know that you may not like what they say; be okay with this. The goal is to grow as a person and leader by gathering as much information as you can. We all have blind spots and if you aren’t aware of them, it’s going to be hard to shift in a productive way.
- Shift your thinking to people first. A successful leader always leads with people in mind first. It’s not counter-intuitive; it’s paying attention to the needs of the team. The more the team’s needs are met, the harder they will work for you. If your research tells you that you don’t always have people in mind, stop and ask yourself if you’ve communicated effectively with them.
Can a leader be successful without shifting to the new age of leadership? Absolutely. It’s been done in the past and will continue to be done in the future. But that doesn’t mean it’s the most efficient way to lead. Successful people typically attribute their successes to their habits and routines, and while this may work it’s actually a false attribution.
Successful leaders are successful because of the people around them. And the more you lead with those people in mind, the more those people will take care of the goals and outcomes you’re looking for.