Over the past two weeks, I’ve had the distinct honour of being recognized by two organizations for my work in the field of leadership. The first came from Inc. Magazine which recognized me as one of the Top 100 Leadership and Management Experts, putting me alongside such leadership heavyweights as Sir Richard Branson, Vineet Nayar, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Peter F. Drucker, and placing one spot below Bill Gates.
The second recognition I received came from Kelly Services in their list of the “Top 7 Blogs Every Manager Should Read”, where I found myself being included alongside such preeminent sites as the Harvard Business Review, Bloomberg Businessweek’s Management Blog, The Gallup Blog, and Seth Godin to name a few.
Naturally, I took to my various networks to share this news, both to invite others to join me in celebrating these recognitions, but also as an opportunity for me to express my appreciation for the continued support and encouragement I’ve received over the years that has helped to place me in such esteemed company.
Among the various congratulatory wishes, renowned leadership expert, best-selling author, and award-winning leadership speaker Jim Kouzes posed an interesting question to me – looking back at the journey that has lead to me such accolades and recognition, “what would you say are the 3 to 5 lessons you’ve learned along the way?”
Although my reply to Jim’s query focused on some of the lessons I’ve learned from writing this blog for the past 5 years, I realized that some of these lessons also apply to the field of leadership, in how they can guide us to become the kind of leader our employees need us to be so they can succeed and thrive.
So here now are 3 lessons I’d like to share from my own experiences to ensure that we’re not only successful in our efforts to guide and inspire those we lead, but that we’re able to achieve the underlying vision and drive that defines why we commit ourselves to serving those under our care.
1. Choose to be persistent, not stubborn
When I’m asked about my writings on leadership and the nature of blogging, one thing that people are naturally curious about is wanting to know what measures I took to get to where I am today. While there’s no process or clear series of steps I can point to, one thing that I know is a key factor behind my success and attaining recognitions like those above is the fact that I’m persistent. I never let any setback or slowdown deter me from what I wanted to achieve, and whatever challenges or obstacles I faced were opportunities to stretch my competencies and grow.
As with any long-term initiative, it’s inevitable that we’ll face obstacles or forks in the road where we have to re-evaluate our approach going forward. In those moments, it’s easy for us to resist the forces of change, insisting on sticking to what we know. And it’s here where we can begin to appreciate the differences in being persistent instead of being stubborn.
By being stubborn, we close ourselves off to new understandings, new realities, and even new opportunities. Persistence, on the other hand, allows us to be malleable to discovery and learning from these new insights, while at the same time being resilient in achieving our shared purpose.
By being persistent, we’re able to see obstacles and challenges as opportunities to learn and evolve; to find new avenues where we can become stronger and do a better job serving those under our care.
These days we hear a lot about how we have to shift from working harder to working smarter. Our ability to make this shift requires us to develop the tenacity to keep pushing ourselves to be a better leader to those we serve; that we don’t rest on the accolades we achieved from climbing the mountain we now stand on, but that we use this new vantage point to discover routes we can take to begin climbing the next one.
2. Develop a learning mindset to embrace failure and discover new opportunities
Given my scientific background, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that for the past 5 years, I’ve been experimenting with what and how I write for this blog. In most cases, these changes weren’t anything big or significant, but subtle shifts that allowed me to test and learn what works, what resonates most with my readers, and what would help to increase the visibility of my brand and blog.
This approach is something we often read about in terms of innovation – of how we can develop a new product or service offering by running various experiments or pilot projects to test the viability of these new ideas.
In terms of leadership, though, what this approach also helps us with is opening ourselves to a learning mindset, so we can be more adaptive to the changes happening within and outside our organization. We’ve all seen how fast-paced and interconnected the global marketplace is compared to a decade ago, which is why we can no longer afford to rely on the assumption that what allowed us to succeed in the past will ensure our successes in the future.
Here again is where we can see the benefit of a learning/experimenting mindset as it facilitates the willingness to accept failure as an opportunity for discovery and gaining new insights, allowing us to challenge our assumptions of what’s feasible and what we can accomplish. In this way, we can remain curious about the world around us, looking out for new ideas, new insights and how they can be applied to the work you and your employees do.
By fostering an outward-focused mindset over preserving the status quo, we can help our organization to capture opportunities we might otherwise overlook, and gain new insights that can help us move one step closer to achieving our shared purpose.
3. Make sure you honour your commitment to those you serve
One of the challenges of writing is that we don’t have the advantage of seeing our audience – of knowing how many people will show up to check out what we have to say or share. And yet, we still have to honour the commitment we make to our readers – that whether it’s one person or 1 000, if they read our blog or pick up our book, we’ll give them something to think about and hopefully something that will inspire them to be better than they are today.
This in many ways is the flip side of persistence, where here the focus shifts away from ourselves and out towards those we wish to engage with and empower with our ideas and message. In terms of our ability to lead, this reflects on that point about our focus not being on us, but on valuing the relationships we have with those we serve, and in particular, what we’ve committed to providing to help our employees succeed.
This is an especially important point to note as it’s easy for us to look at a given situation solely from our vantage point; of thinking that because we did or said something, we gave our employees what they wanted.
And yet, if we are to provide our employees with the kind of environment and resources they need to not only do their jobs, but to succeed in their collective efforts, we need to evaluate our contributions not from our perspective, but from the impact it has on our employees.
The reality is that being a leader doesn’t give us the permission to be indifferent to being accountable to those we serve. On the contrary, if we want to engender a sense of trust in our leadership – if not also a culture of shared accountability in our organization – we have to honour the commitment we made when we took on the responsibility to serve those under our care.
Remember, your every action and word is closely watched by those you lead to help them understand what truly matters. If we want our employees to be fully dedicated to the shared purpose of our organization, we need to first demonstrate that commitment in ourselves.
These lessons are, of course, not the only ones leaders require to be successful in today’s fast-paced, every changing global environment. And perhaps that in itself is the most important lesson every leader should learn and take hold of – that no matter how much we’ve learned or how many successes we’ve attained so far, the truth to succeeding at leadership is recognizing that it’s a never-ending journey of discovery and learning.
In this light, it becomes easier to appreciate that one outcome of the lessons we’ve learned up to this point is to help set the stage for the experiences and insights we need to learn next to help us become the leader those we serve need us to be.
A note of thanks to Jim Kouzes whose line of inquiry about the “lessons I’ve learned along they way” helped to inspire this piece. A cogent example of the power of inquiry and its ability to spur reflection and insights that might otherwise go unnoticed.