Future Proof the Leader in the Mirror?
People often ask for my key lessons from the incredible conversations in the Brave Feminine Leadership interview series. Over 75 conversations with leading CEOs, Company Directors and senior professionals focussed on leadership.
One thing stands head and shoulder above all others.
The importance of self awareness for leaders.
It is a key driver for personal and professional growth and leaders who invest the time in their own self improvement, who set clear goals and develop strategies to focus on this will reap the rewards.
David Thodey (Former chief executive officer of Telstra and current chairman of Xero) shared:
And I think the biggest derailleur for future leaders or leaders of today is a lack of self-awareness. I've seen wonderful people who have never quite realised their ultimate potential because there's been this lack of awareness of how they impacted others.
Leadership is a privilege.
Anyone with a reasonably high IQ and ok management skills can get a title.
But, becoming a true leader takes resilience, discipline and a commitment to be constantly evolving throughout your career.
It also takes strong relationships with leaders, mentors and colleagues who will share direct actionable feedback.
And two ears.
A personal development journey at heart
Even with many leadership courses on offer in organisations, we continue to see leaders struggle to achieve and measure progress. My interviews with incredibly effective leaders, coupled with my own professional life and lifelong learning experiences, leaves me with no doubt about the benefits increased self awareness can bring, for both short term goals and long term goals.
Imagine the key differences it could make for a leaders future success if they became aware of the impact they were having on those around them. If they were intentional about personal growth and set milestones as they climbed the corporate ladder to place relationships ahead of getting a title. Success in senior roles is linked to the quality of relationships you build as you shift from being an individual contributor to being a leader who delivers results in the workplace through others.
My own learnings came early.
I am impatient by nature.
It is both a superpower and a curse. I have learnt to harness it for good and channel it into a desire to achieve outcomes, but sometimes I slip and everyone around me is running fast to catch up.
Two incredible mentors called this out for me. The first asked me one day if I knew that I audibly sighed in meetings. Someone else was talking and the group (in my opinion) were taking too long to get to the answer. As soon as she shared it, I knew. I had felt the tell tale jiggly leg that starts when I am feeling impatient. I did not know that I sighed out loud.
What a pain in the butt.
What a “know it all” pain in the butt I was.
At the same time it fuelled an increased motivation, to put more effort and keep constantly learning from others around me so that I would become more aware of blindspots I might have. I adopted a growth mindset to the feedback and set goals to change.
The second lesson came as I stepped into my CEO role.
A mentor who knew me well said “you will look around and see a million things you want to fix”. He was right. I did.
He went on to share sage advice with me “Pace yourself. Choose two or three things. Fix them and then move on or you will kill everyone with your pace”.
Without the frank feedback and knowledge from these two wonderful leaders I wouldn't have known where to start with my own personal development plan and I doubt I would have worked out how to become a successful CEO.
Time for a growth mindset and a strong (refreshed) personal development plan
The good news is that we can all improve our self awareness.
It is one of the four key components of emotional intelligence:
Self-awareness - Knowing your own emotions and understanding how they impact your behaviour
Self-management - Regulating your emotions so that they don't get in the way of effective decision-making
Social awareness - Being aware of the emotions of others and understanding how they might be feeling
Relationship management - Creating positive relationships by managing the emotions of yourself and others
Why Is Emotional Intelligence Important for Leaders?
Leaders who are emotionally intelligent are better able to manage their own emotions, understand the emotions of their team members, and build positive relationships. This enables them to create a positive work environment, make better decisions, resolve conflict effectively, and ultimately achieve better business results. In fact, studies have shown that emotional intelligence skills can lead to improved job performance, increased earnings potential, and even lower levels of stress.
So better job performance, increased earnings potential and lower level of stress. Anyone still on the fence?
If you want to improve your emotional intelligence skills as a leader, there are a few things you can do:
Here are my Top 7 Tips to future proof your leadership.
Get really clear on why you want to lead others
Clear on your values and what you stand for. Leadership is challenging and to weather the inevitable challenges you need to know your own north star.
Be open to feedback
When somebody offers you feedback ,try to see it as an opportunity to learn and grow instead of getting defensive. Even better, be proactive about asking for feedback. Ask trusted friends, mentors, your leader, peers and direct reports on a regular basis. Don’t overdo it and be careful it is not about seeking validation - people spot that a mile away. Use this data as research to get clear and identify the gap between how you see yourself and how others see you.
Adopt a growth mindset and be patient with yourself (always with a positive attitude).
Integrating feedback and trying new skills can take time to succeed. The key question here is what feedback will you take on, what personally matters to you and aligns to your own goals? Do you want to be CEO? Will this gap prevent you from reaching your full potential? Change will not occur if the motivation is because HR said so.
Keep learning and allow yourself to be bad at something.
Pay attention to the feelings of vulnerability and even at times imposter syndrome that come up when we step out of our comfort zone and try new things. Comfort with failure as a necessary step to success is critical and you will be a better leader for it.
Don’t make up stories for yourself about why people have reacted a certain way.
Journal or Meditate
Practice mindfulness meditation to become more aware of your thoughts and feelings. Capture them as a way of tracking your progress over time. Reflect on the patterns. Self aware leaders slow down and pay attention to themselves.
Listen and then take action with a growth mindset to make changes.
Michelle Winzer (Group Executive RACQ) shared in her interview the unintended consequence of striving to be the best and the pressure it placed on teams around her.
I worked like a Trojan. I just worked so hard to do everything to the absolute best. I thought that I was only successful when I was the best at what I was doing. And …that meant that I put an awful lot of pressure on myself and I pushed myself really hard to do lots of things. And I didn't ever think that that was impacting on others because it was just the expectation I had of myself that I just needed to keep on pushing through.
Michelle Winzer, Brave Feminine Leadership Interview 2022
Click here for the full full interview with Michelle.
Why is active listening so important?
In The CEO Test, a wonderful book by Adam Bryant & Kevin Sharer, Listening is rated as one of the 7 critical themes that will have the greatest impact on your leadership skills. Listening is magnified as on of the most important tasks when you move into more senior roles simply because people tell you less. Your ability to understand what is not being said develops the better you become at listening.
I found a brilliant mindfulness meditation from Smiling Minds recently called: Are you really listening? I invite you to try it out here (download the free app!).
The object of the meditation was simply to ask your partner or someone in your personal life a question and deeply listen to their response. Sounds simple, however pay attention.
It invites you to pay attention to how your mind wanders, how you want to use all the socially appropriate nods, murmurs and facial expressions, how your mind wanders to the shopping list, what makes you happy, etc. Keep returning to what they are saying.
All leaders are busy, distracted and trying to cope with the pace of change.
We miss stuff.
We are half listening all the time.
It is such a simple and brilliant exercise. It highlights how poorly we actually listen. How we are not really in the present moment as we engage with others.
There is no formal training or leadership course needed to practice and develop this skill at home, and set an example for friends and family over our summer break, and to bring it back to our employee and others on our return from the break.
This is a critical skill for any leader. Can you slow down enough to really listen. Rather than listen to share what you know.
Watch how others respond to you when you really listen.
Then go and ask for some feedback and practice again.