Jeff is a leadership team coach, author of Navigating Chaos: How To Find Certainty in Uncertain Situations and host of the weekly podcast Shut Up And Show Up: Forging Elite Teams. Here is is writing for Forbes about what he wished he had known when he first became a leader. Great applicable advise.
I’m a former 13-year Navy SEAL turned team coach and consultant who now applies what I learned about elite teams from the pinnacle of the Navy SEAL Teams to civilian companies. I’m also the author of two books 1) Navigating Chaos: How To Find Certainty In Uncertain Situation…As a leadership coach, I often see the same leadership challenges arise across industries. There’s the challenge of time (there’s never enough of it), decision making, navigating organizational politics (which is really a trust issue), creating a shared purpose, communicating across silos and, of course, the dreaded accountability factor (which is typically absent).
No matter what industry you’re in, there are certain performance measures that must occur if you are to move the ball forward. There needs to be leadership that governs and guides direction and behavior—and not just “up there” but at the individual employee level, as well. There needs to be trust before there’s candor so your team can optimize how it communicates and, therefore, produce work. There needs to be information sharing so people understand context and intent which allow them to make their own decisions.
However, achieving these are easier said than done. While not an all-inclusive list, below are four common lessons that I hear leaders say they wish they had learned sooner:
There is no work/life balance.
Stop chasing it. The whole work/life balance thing doesn’t exist if you’re ambitious, motivated and hungry. You can’t get to the next level, achieve your goals or pursue your dreams if you’re only playing 50% of the time. To do what you love and love what you do takes work—a lot of work. I certainly didn’t become a SEAL because I had “balance.” Instead, what I had was an obsession. I had a goal and was obsessed with achieving it. As a result, I created impact in my life and in my work. Think of the work and life domains as existing along a spectrum where one day requires more effort at work and another demands more attention at home. Obviously, the challenge is when work demands all your attention such that it takes away from your impact at home. Accept it. Stop fighting it. You can’t chase both dragons. That’s why setting decision-making boundaries for yourself and your team is so important because boundaries reduce the sense of enormity and overwhelm caused by uncertainty. Speaking of decisions…
Making the right decision vs making the safe decision.
Leadership is about having the courage to make unpopular decisions because they’re the right decisions. It’s also a leader’s job to communicate not only the why behind that decision so people understand the rationale behind it but to also to listen to people’s concerns so you can make a more informed decision.
Strong leaders don’t shy away from difficult decisions. They may not like some of the decisions they face but they know that avoiding a decision is also decision in itself, and procrastination only exacerbates the problem.
Emotions aren’t scary.
Emotions are uncomfortable topics for weak leaders. That’s a strong statement, I know, but in my experience as a leadership coach, the strongest leaders are comfortable talking about emotions because they’re confident with themselves. Think of it this way. Leadership takes courage. If leadership was easy then it wouldn’t be an approximate $130B industry and I’d be out of a job. Performing a skill you’re already good at or having a discussion about a topic you’re already comfortable with isn’t leading, it’s execution. It takes courage to talk about uncomfortable topics (emotions in this case), and when you do, you become not only more resilient as a result but also a leader that people are willing to follow because of your courage.
Behind every complaint is an unexplored question.
Meetings are more than employees simply getting together to talk and “figure things out.” Meetings provide an opportunity for connection and belonging. Nowhere else are there such glaring opportunities to build community, make decisions, connect and find meaning. However, counterproductive workplace behaviors, such as showing up late or having sidebar conversations, pose direct threats to such opportunities. Even a seemingly benign remark by an employee provides insight into that employee’s world. Instead of ignoring it, ask the employee to help you understand his or her thinking behind it. Otherwise, the same problem will persist or worsen.