I recently gave a talk about the idea of practicing leadership. I use the word “practicing” intentionally. I teach yoga, and we talk about the idea of practicing yoga, because we know that we will never get to perfection with yoga. The success of your yoga practice depends on so many factors each time you come to your mat – your mood, your body’s health that day, and even the teacher and the other yoga students.
Leadership is similar. People can be great leaders most days, but sometimes they are short on sleep, long on stress, or just dealing with someone who doesn’t bring out their best. That’s why leadership is an ongoing practice – not something that you will always do perfectly.
I like to talk about self-leadership, which to me means that you’re that person in the office who takes initiative, who knows how to add value, and also who manages their emotions and is a positive force in the group.
I also like to talk about self-awareness, because I think that’s key for successful leadership. To me, self-awareness means that you are aware of the impact you have on others, you are aware of the ways you react and what makes you react, and you’re aware of the areas that you need to develop.
These are five key pieces that I believe are essential to good leadership.
1. Understanding and managing your hot buttons. We all have things that automatically set us off. A good example is punctuality. If someone is consistently late for meetings, that may be a hot button for you. It means that when they are late, YOU are put at a disadvantage, because your hot button causes you to be irritable, impatient, and less productive in the meeting. The truth is, fear is the true emotion behind almost all anger. If someone is consistently late and it makes you angry, think about the fear that might be behind that anger. You may fear that they don’t respect you enough to be on time. Once you understand your most common hot buttons, you take back power and control over your emotions.
2. Conflict management and drama. I don’t mean conflict management techniques, although those are important too. What I mean is, how do you avoid being pulled into the conflict and drama that may be engaged in by the people around you? If you think about why you get involved in the drama, you may discover another hot button, and that in turn will help you control your reaction. You may also be able to identify the hot buttons that are being pushed in other people, and that will assist in managing the conflict rather than becoming part of the conflict.
3. Imposter syndrome and self-doubt. The basic practice for both of these is building your self-confidence. One way to do this is to think about times in the past where you felt confident, and translate those feelings to the present. You can also use positive visualization to calm your brain when it starts to send out alarms and fear. Your brain is very influenced by the pictures you paint in your imagination, so try to break habits of worry and negative self-talk. It sounds cheesy, but you truly must be your own best friend in order to defeat imposter syndrome and self-doubt.
4. Getting out of your own way. This is different for everyone, but for me, the three ways I need to get out of my own way are always the same, no matter the situation. Take the time to get organized. Learn to delegate. Stop being a perfectionist. Examine what you need to do in order to get out of your own way, and then practice doing it. Chances are good, these are life-long habits so it may take dedication to break them, but it’s worth it.
5. Values and deal-breakers. It’s inspiring to see someone who is clear about their values and expectations, and who lives this every day. As a leader, it’s important that your team knows what’s important to you. That means YOU need to know what’s important to you. Figure out your top 3 – 5 values and communicate them to your team regularly, not only through your words, but also through your actions. Understand your boundaries and be ready to enforce them. For example, if you don’t want to have work colleagues among your Facebook friends, make that a clear boundary and don’t be afraid to enforce it.
Leadership at all levels is an ongoing practice that changes as we grow and learn. Build the time into your life to reflect and develop your leadership, and your hard work will be rewarded in success.