Sometimes good leaders can miss great opportunities.
I’m not referring to the wing-it-and-hope-for-the-best managers here; I’m talking about hard-working leaders who are fully intent on guiding their organizations to higher levels of success. Maybe they weren’t as open-minded as they could have been when considering a new innovation. Or they were so focused on meeting a deadline that they underestimated the value of additional strategic planning. At times, they simply couldn’t see amazing opportunities right in front of them—and they missed out.
Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. But how does this happen to smart leaders? What is it that sometimes clouds their usually clear vision?
The truth is, we can’t lead our organizations if we can’t lead others. And we can’t lead others if we can’t lead ourselves. All three parts are essential, but the last one – leading ourselves – is the facet that frequently gets overlooked. Ironically, that step should come first in the process. Let’s look at some of the characteristics associated with the three dimensions of leadership:
Composure and flexibility
Accountability and ownership
Communicating and collaborating effectively
Developing and maintaining relationships
Identifying others’ unique talents
Mentoring others and guiding their development
Maximizing and leveraging the diverse talents of a team
Leading the Organization
Ability to lead change
To reach full potential, we need to layer all of these characteristics, starting with the foundation of leading ourselves. Think about managers with exceptional vision but no empathy in dealing with others. Ever had a supervisor with a real aptitude for financial management but a painful shortage of communication skills? These people are not only missing some of the key characteristics required for great leadership, but they also don’t recognize the problem. They simply don’t see it. Unfortunately, that deficit in self-awareness dramatically erodes the value they could be providing in so many other ways.
At times, my coaching clients face that same issue. I sometimes hear complaints about the boss being a jerk, the corporate culture being a train wreck, or clueless team members who just don’t “get it.” These are all external factors over which my clients have little or no control. I try to remind them that a great first step for dealing with those frustrations is to focus on their ability to lead themselves. By looking inside, they typically gain new perspective and occasionally discover they were inadvertently contributing to the problem or situation.
So what’s the solution? If people without solid self-awareness have risen through the ranks to senior roles, it may feel awkward for them to step back and work on what they consider to be rudimentary skill-building exercises. But it’s absolutely necessary. If these leaders don’t take the time to analyze and understand themselves, they can’t effectively lead their organizations, inspire teams or drive change.
If you suspect that you aren’t leading yourself as effectively as you could, consider setting aside time this year to make improvements in all three layers of leadership. Even if you’ve mastered some areas, challenge yourself to grow and get more comfortable with the others. If your organization administers 360° assessments to help you gather feedback from colleagues, take advantage of those tools. You might also consider hiring a coach to help you evaluate which leadership skills need some polish.
To avoid missing great opportunities, remove any “clouds” that might be obstructing your view: ensure that your leadership skills include all three dimensions, starting with a healthy dose of self-awareness.
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