Being a leader is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s an incredible opportunity to grow as an individual, inspire people, and facilitate real change – be that in your own business, on the footy field or within a small team at a large company. It’s also somewhat of a curse: your team’s problems become your problems, you have to be the bad guy and make decisions that might upset people, and you have to be constantly engaged and emotionally available to those you manage. It’s tough. (At least Batman and Spiderman could hide behind a tight outfit and then disappear once their work was done!) Unfortunately, we’re not superheroes. In this blog, I’m going to offer a list of hacks that can get you through the toughest leadership challenge.
Learn the subtle art of letting go
With great power comes great responsibility, as the saying goes. Many leaders interpret this as “with great power comes the pressure to do everything yourself”. This isn’t the case. Some of the best and most effective leaders are fantastic delegators. The reason they seem so efficient is because they’ve given the right tasks to the right people to ensure sh*t gets done. I know this can be a tricky leadership challenge. As someone who’s super passionate and who takes great pride in their role, it can be difficult to let go and trust others to do the fantastic job you want done. But, seriously, learn to let go. Delegate and elevate, as Gino Wickman would say. Learn how to trust your team without micromanaging them.
Become comfortable with asking for and receiving constructive feedback
The hierarchical management systems of the fifties are over: when information and power flowed down through the ranks and employees were powerless to speak up to their superiors. Today, things are vastly different. We sit in open plan offices next to our bosses and address them by their first name. The new paradigm has meant that it’s ok for leaders to ask the people they manage for feedback, without disrupting a draconian power balance. Ask your team for constructive criticism and then use that to help you overcome any hurdles you face. You might not like what you hear, but those short moments of potential anxiety about hearing something you might not want to are totally worth the benefits of listening to your staff.
Good communication is about saying the things you don’t want to say
It’s easy to think of good communication as speaking one’s mind while keeping all those involved happy at the same time. Yes, it would be awesome if we never had to confront awkward silences, stern words and that intimidating colleague, but life ain’t like that. Really good communication is actually about having the balls to say the things you don’t want to say. Learn to identify what the unsaid things that need to be said are, and then be brave enough to say them. This might sound like a recipe for creating a leadership challenge, rather than avoiding one, but with better communication you’ll be able to overcome even the trickiest of leadership challenges. Not only that, you’ll be setting a great example for those you with work.
How do you solve problems like a boss? With three letters: IDS
In his book, Traction, Gino Wickman outlines a fantastic approach to solving problems that helps avoid those fruitless hours spent deliberating and going round in circles in meetings. His IDS – Identify - Discuss - Solve – approach is a trusty tool to help you through any leadership challenge you might encounter. Gather your team and first identify the source problem you want to solve. Often, we think the issue is one thing, when actually the real issue is something quite different. Get to the bottom of what the real issue is and then discuss it. Wickman encourages everyone to pitch in, but to only mention things once to avoid getting pulled down a rabbit hole of debate. Once everyone has been heard you can move onto solving the issue. (Have a look at the Entrepreneurial Operating System website for more nifty tools like this IDS model.)
Sometimes a ‘no’ is way more powerful than a ‘yes’
Just like learning how to let go, sometimes the hardest leadership challenge is learning how to say no – to potential clients. It might sound counterintuitive (after all, isn’t the point of business to win more business?), but the best thing for your business is to work only with clients who share your culture and values. Believe me, there’s nothing worse than clashing with a client a few months down the line. Not only does it cause a lot of stress, it’s ridiculous how much time and energy are wasted on trying to work with someone who doesn’t get you, or you them. After all, culture is one of the most important ingredients for both a happy workplace and happy clients, as I discussed in my previous blog.
When it comes to leadership, if you feel like you’re in over your head – that’s a good sign – it means you’re challenging yourself and will motivate and inspire you to keep pedalling through the tough times.
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