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Redefining Leadership - Unraveling Today’s Challenges in Guiding Others - EP 2

Emily: [00:00:00] So when we think about why we lead, it’s because we want to make a positive impact in certain ways, only in ways that you can articulate. Cause if somebody else articulates it for you, it won’t be you.

Hi, welcome back to let’s talk people. Today, we’re going to talk about our own leadership. Have we got what it takes to lead today? Not yesterday. Not the year before, the year before that. Do we have what it takes to lead today?

I’m going to give that a hell NO. We DO NOT. I’m not sure anybody does. And I’m not sure we ever really did.

Leading is hard. So let’s go back in our leadership journeys. How did most of us enter into leadership? We either self-anointed, so we chose to be leaders. Or we were awarded: Congratulations, you’ve become a leader because you were a really good [00:01:00] performer at what you did. And next thing you know, you have the responsibility for people.

And people are COMPLICATED.

So, one of the things that we know from a data perspective is that only one out of 10 of us were born with the traits to lead people. So that means 10 percent of us had a leading advantage coming into this game. The rest of us were screwed from the start. And then we just started doing it. And so how did we learn?

We learned from our parents … screech! We learned from our teachers, which basically meant some of you will do well and thrive, some of you will be really low performers, and the majority of you are just straight up average. That’s what we learned. We learned we were competing against each other for the scarcity of success, and we learned that the majority of us were average.

Coaches in sports wasn’t much better. [00:02:00] They only added the additional ingredient of cheerleading you, and then berating you when you didn’t perform. Then it brings us ---- to today: being in organizations and leading others. We then get to experience leadership by our bosses, by the heads of our organizations and companies, and we all know that has left a lot to be desired.

Don’t let me even get into politics. We’re going to keep this straight up business here today. So we learned a lot about what didn’t work. We learned by the way it impacted us in our own lives and careers. We learned by watching the effect it had on others, people that we loved, and their stories of being wounded. And we learned by doing.

So does learn by doing work from a leadership perspective? I mean, it does to a degree, but it takes time. And right now, the types of circumstances that the [00:03:00] leaders that we work with, and what I’ve been hearing from all of you, are facing, they’re not easy ones to learn on the job, because people have emotional situations that happen and escalate very quickly, business is changing at a rapid pace, and your competitors are continuing to move into your spaces. So you could do leadership slow, and learn it as you go, on the job through your boss, and the things that they do well and the things they don’t do so well, which, by the way, are way more memorable, as I’m sure you know. Or we decide to invest in the skills.

So I’m going to give you an analogy to plants, because I have a love of plants and I am known as a killer of all things living that are green. I am a plant killer. My husband has begged me for years to stop buying live plants and to go to plastic, which I refuse to do. Because I think I can learn how to take care of the plants by doing.

I ask at the shop where I buy them what they need in terms of water and light, [00:04:00] and how frequently I need to water them and take care of them. And then I’ve got it. And my hit rate is probably about 30%, which means I throw out a lot of dead plants and I feel really badly about it.

So that might be what happens to our teams.

Some people we work really, really well for. They just get us, we get them, we have that work chemistry, and we are just vibing.

Then there’s another third where they know you got power, you pay their bills, you choose whether they get promoted, you choose what work they get or don’t get, and they are just smiling their way through it. Yes ma’am, yes sir, and just continuing to grind it out.

And then there’s a third that are really not flourishing. And the hardest part is we don’t really know whether it’s them and their performance, or whether it’s us. So, we have a pretty low known success rate when we leave our own [00:05:00] leadership to chance and we learn it as we go.

And then I want to add on top of it that, the research shows, and this is a US statistic, but it does represent a broader one that I’ll share globally, which is one in four people are depressed. Anybody out there a therapist? Cause I’m sure not. And I can deal with pretty deep emotional issues and have as a coach and as a wellness practitioner, but depression is another thing.

So you have people suffering from depression and anxiety on your teams. And none of us are equipped to deal with that. You want to know another thing we’re not equipped for? Is when people have perceptions of how you and others are treating them that may be different than reality. And the problem is we don’t control perceptions.

Because perception is that person’s reality. So we’ve been facing all sorts of challenging circumstances where employees bring forward [00:06:00] all sorts of grievances. And yes, maybe the truth is always somewhere in between. But leaders are trying to navigate getting called out. For behaviors of theirs, behaviors in their teams that are causing people to feel discriminated against, not valued, feeling excluded, and are raising equity issues.

So that’s two factors. I’m going to bring in the third. So the first was the fact that none of us, with maybe the exception of that 10%, were equipped to lead to begin with. Two, people are suffering from pretty severe mental health challenges. It’s a crisis. And that doesn’t even include generalized anxiety that so many people are feeling.

It was there before the pandemic, the World Health Organization said, but it has increased since then.

And then we get to part three, which is about flexibility. People are asking to have more say in how, where, when, and even the ways that they work. We’re not [00:07:00] equipped for it. As I heard somebody recently say, there is no equitable hybrid. And hybrid is most organizations’ current reality.

So that’s what we’re grappling with. Leadership was always hard. Managing people was always hard. But now you have these additional factors that none of us were trained for.

So what do we do?

I often feel that the best solutions are where we go back to the basics. And the basics have to do with HUMANITY.

And it always starts with our own. We start with ourselves.

So the first step in our leadership journey is to realize that we are imperfect. That is correct. Not perfect. We are imperfect. And we should and will always be imperfect. Because the minute we think we’ve got this whole thing figured out that we know how to lead, we are amazing at it, is the minute we have failed. Because we will never be for everybody. [00:08:00]

We will always be presented with new circumstances that we haven’t addressed before. And because leadership, like all learning, is lifelong learning because it keeps getting harder. Hopefully, because we keep taking on new responsibilities or because we seek out new experiences, new challenges.

So when we look within ourselves, there’s a few questions to ask. The first question is, why do I lead? Why have I chosen to lead? And the truth is, some of us didn’t. If we knew we could make exactly as much money, have the same title, and have that pride and gravitas that goes along with being considered a leader, without having to actually manage people, we’d be thrilled about it.

And then for the rest of us, who get so much fulfillment out of leading people, that is fantastic. And we remember that when we lead, we’re always half the equation. So if there are performance issues, if there’s productivity issues, if there’s engagement issues, [00:09:00] team issues and the like, half of it is always us.

Because when you’re a leader, you have authority, you have power. And just the act of you being in the role that you’re in impacts the group dynamic. And people have all sorts of feelings about leaders. So forget what you even do from the moment you show up, the fact that you have positional power on a project or for a team, people already start having feelings. And that feeling can often stem from their childhoods, from the earliest experiences with adults.

So this is why it causes us to have to do a lot of self work, because we can get caught in other people’s stories. And the way we get caught in other people’s stories about our leadership is that we haven’t learned our own stories.

It is our early stories of what we’ve seen and how others have led or influenced our development. It’s about how those people, our parents and other authority figures [00:10:00] saw and treated us that actually become the basis of our leadership. It goes way back. So when we think about why we lead, it’s because we want to make a positive impact in certain ways: only in ways that you can articulate, because if somebody else articulates it for you, it won’t be you.

We lead because we’re trying to heal something in ourselves. It could be the way we were treated. It could be the fact that we were seen or not seen. But leading is also self healing. So we ask ourselves, why do we lead?

Second, is we figure out what part of it we love to do. When you can find your own passion for leading, it helps you to know what parts of leading you’re really good at.

And then we ask ourselves, what parts of leading do we not like as much? If we [00:11:00] had a choice, we would prefer to give it to somebody else to do, or to just not have it be a part of our job description. Because those are the places where we’re going to need support. And support comes in many forms. Support comes from asking other people for advice.

It comes from our actual team. Because when we build the right teams, it becomes a source of collaborative high performance. It’s not about us being able to know it all or do it all. We get a lot of support from our teams. And it comes from our mentors and role models, the people who we look up to and admire.

So getting really clear on what is it about leadership that feels like it’s you is a critical part of the reflection.

And then I’d say the third part of this series of figuring out our own leadership is what is it about our leadership that we don’t even know? What’s the impact that we’re having that [00:12:00] it’s impossible for us to understand, because we only get to look at it through our own eyes from this vantage point?

And that, I feel, is the hardest part of this leadership journey that’s within us. Because we don’t know how other people experience us, unless we dare to ask. But asking is wrought with all sorts of challenges, because people may not feel safe to answer. So I’m going to give you a couple suggestions.

So the first suggestion is to ask the people who feel safe to give you the truth.

That’s your friends. It’s really close colleagues. It’s your boss. They’re not in a position where your leadership impacts their well being, their livelihood, their career future. So start by asking the people who can give you some feedback. And don’t ask one person because [00:13:00] this is a bit of knitting together the themes to be able to find the story of how people experience you.

And then it’s about how you ask. And the more open ended, the better. And there’s at least two types of questions. So one question is to get the good stuff. And the reason you need to get the good stuff is because you already are doing that well. So when you do something well, just like in any other role you perform, or way that you show up at work, the things that you do well, keep doing it and do more of it. That’s where you thrive.


nd so the way you ask that is, what is the impact you feel that I make as a leader? How would you describe me to others?

And then we always need to know the other side, which is our shadow side, kind of that underbelly of where we all have areas for growth. And this is where it gets at times uncomfortable.

And the way that you ask for [00:14:00] that feedback is questions like what are ways I could make an even greater leadership impact? What would you need to see from me to be able to trust me with even greater people management responsibility? If there was one thing I could change to be an even more effective leader, what do you think that is?

Another one: if there was only one thing that I could do to make it easier for you to work with me, what could that be? So even though that’s posed more as kind of a colleague collaborative question, there is insight in that about how you show up at work and how you perform that you can glean.

And then to get feedback from others, there’s two ways. And this is really where it gets into the people who may not feel as comfortable giving you feedback because of your positional power.

Sometimes we use data, and we have an outside [00:15:00] survey or coach or leader do that. And then the other is there’s ways we can ask questions of our team. And so one of the ways to do that is to meet with each person one to one. If you have a very highly trusting environment and you feel safe, you could do it as a group. I’ve done that before, and I facilitated that before. But the safest way is to do it one to one.

And you ask some of those similar questions. You say, tell me how you experience me as a leader? Second, what’s the impact that my leadership has on you and the team? And third, what’s one thing that I could do to make it even easier for you to work with me?

And the reason that question asks to get more of that growth edge-oriented feedback is because it’s not a judgment about you. It’s about that person and their preferred ways of working. And so that helps make it easier for you to hear their feedback in a way that makes them feel safe. [00:16:00] So leadership starts from within. It’s a journey. And there are many people to help us along the way, but we have to choose to want to receive it.

So from there, where do we go?

We go to building strong teams. We don’t control who we work for. We don’t control the leadership and our bosses and almost all of us, unless you’re the founder and have no board.

We all have a boss. We all have people who have an impact on our career success. And we’re all imperfect. And so our greatest leadership shows up in our ability to build the right teams. Because none of us, as we talked about, back to being imperfect, none of us have got it all going on. And so the way that we succeed as leaders is to be in a team, to be in community with people who round us out.

So the most fun part of being a leader is that you basically get to pick, within reason, what aspects of your job you [00:17:00] love to do the most. And you get to form a team around you, that loves and is amazing at all the things that you don’t prefer to do as much.

And the second ingredient is that each of those individuals have different parts of the work that they are fantastic at and love to do. Because then you avoid what naturally happens in organizations, which is that internal competition between teams.

So you’re building a team, a diverse team by the lens of capability and passions and insights and perspective and backgrounds. Because the more each and every person brings that is unique to the team, the stronger your leadership. They become a reflection of you, and you are a reflection of them. It takes a system. It takes a team.

We’ll spend more time on the dynamics of teams in another episode, [00:18:00] but for now, let’s keep going.

Because what makes leadership unique within an organizational setting versus just choosing to lead as you walk through life, which is something we all have the right and the capability to do, is that when you lead within an organization, there’s a context. There are boundaries. There is work to be done. There are things that drive high performance in the bottom line, and you don’t always get to choose those. Because once you’ve committed to being a part of an organization, to leading teams, leading organizations, you have work that you’ve committed to get done. And what you know, from a leadership perspective is that it takes clear boundaries, understandings of expectations, roles and responsibilities, deadlines, metrics and reviews. And as a leader, it is your responsibility to put all of those things in place. [00:19:00]

So let’s say you do all of that. You do the self work, you build the team, you create those boundaries and that clarity of what it takes to actually drive high performance and results. And then we layer on all the feelings, all the dynamics that people have in their lives, and that’s where it got real tough.

So I’m going to bring it full circle back to where we started.

On any given week, you have people on your team who are going through really tough personal circumstances. You have people who are juggling the volunteer work they do that is so meaningful to them. You have people who are juggling kids because they’re parents, or they’re engaged aunties and uncles helping out.

You have people on your team who are dealing with health crises in their own lives, and in those of people that they love. And so, we’re in the uncomfortable and challenging role of expecting those individuals to show [00:20:00] up each day, and perform in incredible ways under tight deadlines, with very high expectations around perfectionism that, again, we know are not real, while they are facing all sorts of challenging things outside of work, and within themselves.

And so how do we do it?

We come at it with a compassion for ourselves, and the capability that we have, and the capability we desired, to still build. We come at it with compassion for each person on our team, because we have a heart. and they’re human beings. Which means they’re not going to be the same each and every day.

And each and every hour, they’re gonna go through stuff, and that might show up in their performance. And we learn how to manage, to actual deliverables, and to metrics, and to evidence of performance. So that people can get a little grace to have a good day or a bad day.

And we realize that not [00:21:00] every day is the same. Sometimes things come up. But what we do is we teach ourselves how to ask questions of people: What do you need? What’s going on for you? How are things going? And we learn to ask them to share with us proactively what’s going on for them that they feel comfortable to share in their lives. So that we can do our best to make accommodations. And accommodations is not at the expense of results. Accommodations is how we show people that we trust them, and we want to create the conditions for them to thrive.

So I’m going to raise one more part of this, which again is where we started, which has to do with the mental health piece. You don’t need to be a therapist, you can’t be. But you do need to know how to show compassion, and to hold space because people are going to bring you all sorts of things that you are ill equipped to deal with. They may tell you about something that’s going on in their lives, or they may just break down in tears. They may say that they’re suffering from a mental health condition. [00:22:00]

And I need to tell you that you need to care, but you do not and should not try to solve it. That is not our job as leaders. Let’s leave that to the professionals. What our job is, is to care. And caring means we just hold the space, and we listen.

We say things like, “I really appreciate that you shared that with me”. Or “I can imagine that this might be really a hard time for you or for your loved ones”, “I appreciate that it’s a lot to juggle what you’re going through and work, and how hard you’re working to do that”.

You ask questions like, “is there anything that me, our team, or our organization can do to support you?”

And you say things like, “I’m here, and you can always come to me. Sometimes I might be busy, and I might be caught up in other things. But I will do my best to make the [00:23:00] time, or to find you the support that you need if I can’t provide it”.

And, when people tell you what’s going on for them in their lives, and no matter how deeply painful and difficult it may be, you still have a responsibility to lead and to drive performance.

And this is why it’s hard because we have to hold both. We have to hold the compassion and the ability to be with people as they go through things. And we have to drive high performance. We have to drive the fact that we have a team to manage. And if the team doesn’t have a clear purpose, existence, rules of the road and boundaries, then it’s hard for anybody to feel a part of the team.

Yet the team is made up of individuals who have their own needs, and sometimes those things don’t match up. They seem to even be in conflict. And it’s [00:24:00] our job to navigate them, because the boundaries and the rules that we set to be a part of the team have to, at times, override the needs of the individual. Because that’s what it means to be a high performing team.

So I’m going to leave it with this for now, which is keep getting curious about you, the leader. Who are you? Why are you here to lead? What are your stories about leadership and how they’re shaping you? Two, it’s a learning journey. Keep seeking to learn. It is lifelong learning. Three, our leadership is not isolated to us. It’s about the team.

And last but not least, leadership sits in a context, and that context is work. And the minute that we forget that we’re here to lead, to drive, the outcomes and the performance that the organization needs us to deliver. [00:25:00] we’ve lost. We’ve lost our path. We’ve lost our purpose, and that of the people we lead. And their ability to feel a sense of tremendous accomplishment by what they’re able to help you to create.

So leading is about work. It is about results. It always has been.

And the growth edge for us is in holding the complexity that there is in dealing with all the individuals are bringing forward to us, while managing the needs of the collective, which is the team, while navigating that and driving results.

We’re going to keep this conversation going and continue to break this down in our other episodes. And for now, thanks for joining us. It’s been a pleasure spending time with you.

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