Jeff Boss We like his take on this often underrated aspect of being an effective leader.
Every leader or aspiring leader wants to be an effective leader. They want to know what they have to do or who they have to be to lead with impact and influence in order to have the voice and provide the value they envision. Many of my coaching clients want a 60-day plan that’ll somehow get them to where they want to be if they just follow the plan. While crafting a 60 or 90-day action plan is certainly a worthwhile process to go through, the assumption behind following such a plan is that leadership effectiveness is predictive. Meaning, that if you just follow the plan laid out before you, you’ll be the leader you envision.
It’s not that plans aren’t valuable. It’s what they promise that isn’t. I can’t think of any mission in the SEALs that actually went according to plan, but the process of planning certainly heightened everybody’s awareness. The truth is it’s oftentimes better to “travel” than to “arrive” because the process of traveling is actually a constant “arriving.” Go ahead, read that sentence again.
Some leaders might have a plan, others might not. But effective leaders—leaders that last—certainly learn from their actions and the actions of others–which is a process. Having said that, the most memorable leaders that I’ve encountered over the past 20 years show up with the following:
Effective leaders use questions as tools that serve two purposes: to help themselves learn and to help others learn. Leaders use questions to solicit guidance and explore others’ insights to learn more themselves (after all, the leader isn’t—or shouldn’t be—the person closest to the problem) and they use questions to challenge people to think so they can learn more. More than anything, effective leaders listen. They know that the questions they pose will be heard “throughout the ranks” so they’re smart about how and what questions they ask. This means they listen fully before conjuring up a question rather than planning what question to ask as people are talking.
2. Open Ears.
At my last SEAL command, the commanding officer (CO) liked to make his rounds throughout the team rooms—unexpectedly. He would show up announced because, well, he was the CO. Whenever he appeared he always had a pen and paper ready so he could inquire and listen. He would jot down the questions people asked and who asked them and then follow up with them personally once he had an answer. The result was a CO who was sorely missed once his tenure was over because he personalized his leadership impact. That’s effective leadership. The fact that he showed up with an inquiring mind also speaks of another “show up factor,” which is…
Leaders aren’t supposed to have all the answers. If you are the smartest person in the room then (you’re not going to like this) you’re in the wrong room. Humble leaders are confident leaders and confident leaders inspire. There are many reasons why humility is such a profound leadership characteristic, but the challenge with exercising humility is twofold. First, humility is often viewed as weakness or as a zero-sum game, meaning that if Joe is too humble then that must mean he isn’t a strong enough advocate for what he wants which means his agenda will be lost and others’ achieved (zero-sum).
The truth is, I can’t think of any leader—during my career as a SEAL or as a leadership coach—who was effective without humility. The best leaders are humble leaders. Humility opens the door to learning. It also allows you to defer to the person with the greatest subject matter expertise and context about the problem so it gets solved the best way possible.
I don’t know about you, but I get grumpy when I don’t workout. I can’t focus on my work because I’m too focused on how gross I feel. How you feel about yourself determines how you show up for yourself and your team (sorry for the cheesy cliche, but it’s true). Research by Dr. John Ratey revealed an unspoken reality about the impact of exercise upon the brain: exercise “sparks” brain development—and not just cognitive functioning but emotional wellbeing, as well. Exercise has been shown to not only deliver better results than anti-depressants but actually reverse the effects of depression (which means it’s time to get steppin’).
While the list of “show up factors” for effective leadership is quite long, these are the first that come to mind based on my own experience and observations. What are yours?
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