How to be an Effective Leader
Design your thoughtful approach to leadership and perform at the highest levels
“We need more leaders who are committed to courageous, wholehearted leadership and who are self-aware enough to lead from their hearts, rather than unevolved leaders who lead from hurt and fear.” — Brené Brown
I had to replace my car battery a few weeks ago. The steps are really straightforward; most people online mention that the hardest part is lifting the battery out of the car because it’s so heavy.
I spent 90% of my time trying to remove the brace that holds the battery down and keeps it from moving. It took forever and was really frustrating. I didn’t have the right tool for the task and had to make do with the tools I had and brute force.
Having the right tools for the right tasks and circumstances makes all the difference.
Now, imagine you are a new manager/leader (maybe you are?) Have you ever wondered what the best approach to managing/leading a team is? If you Google it you’ll find all kinds of information.
Maybe you come across inclusive leadership and think “YES — that is how I want to operate.” That’s great! Now what?
You Google “how to be an inclusive leader” and cherry-pick the suggestions that resonate most with you. But, there are instances where inclusive leadership (or any other kind of leadership) is not the right tool for the task at hand.
One of the most common traps people fall into is thinking that there is one right way — or even one best way. This is not true. Largely because it oversimplifies the complexities of different situations.
What works in one setting, with specific variables and circumstances likely won’t work the same way in a different setting with different variables and circumstances.
This article does not declare that XYZ leadership is best and then provides you with a “how-to” on how to become that kind of leader. Instead, this article -
- Places your unique human-ness at the center of your personal philosophy and style,
- Shares a leadership framework to serve as a way to think about how flexible leaders need to be,
- And provides you with exercises to put words to your own personalized leadership philosophy.
So what is your own unique leadership philosophy/style?
By doing the short exercises laid out in this article, you will be able to craft a motivating leadership statement that is unique to you; that inspires confidence in yourself, and that you can share with others so they know what to expect from you.
You’ll dive into three different exercises.
The first aims to help you foster greater self-awareness.
Second, you’ll review some leadership theories and a framework to help inform your personal approach.
Lastly, you will bring it all together and write your personal approach to leadership with the help of some scaffolding that is provided.
Tasha Eurich, the trailblazer of self-awareness research, reports only 15% of people are truly self-aware. In other words, very few people actually see themselves clearly.
Two pieces go into truly being self-aware/seeing oneself clearly.
- Internal self-awareness — knowing who you are, what you value, what you want out of work/life, and how you like to work.
- External self-awareness — being aware of the impact your actions have on others, examining how people respond to you, and actively seeking and acting on feedback.
Both are essential but most people are usually only good at one and struggle with the other. For example, over-index on internal self-awareness and you may unwilling to challenge your own views, you’ll likely get defensive to feedback, and consequently, your relationships suffer.
Over-index on external self-awareness and you may overlook your own wants/needs and become resentful. We need to strike that healthy balance of both if we are going to reap the benefits of being self-aware.
How to Foster Internal Self-awareness
“To be the person who we long to be — we must again be vulnerable. We must take off the armor, put down the weapons, show up, and let ourselves be seen.” — Brené Brown
Take a few minutes to respond to the prompts below.
First, take a few minutes right now to jot down your most meaningful/noteworthy life and/or career events. Think about your big wins/major losses. You can also think of it as in times you were the most energized vs times you were completely drained.
Second, categorize them into two different columns, (positive and negative) and put them in order from most positive to least positive and most negative to least negative.
Third, review your lists and ask yourself the following questions about the events that stand out.
- What did you like/not like about xyz?
- What nudged you to do/not to do something?
- What themes/takeaways can you identify?
There is no perfect way to do this. What you are wanting to have at the end of this exercise is an understanding of what you value and what makes you care about it.
Lastly, find someone you trust to share your reflection with. Share your takeaways and ask them to ask you questions to help you identify things you may have missed.
How to Foster External Self-awareness
“Only when diverse perspectives are included, respected, and valued can we start to get a full picture of the world.” — Brené Brown
External self-awareness is one’s ability to understand how their actions impact others, the skill of examining how people respond to oneself, and actively seeking and acting upon feedback.
This is extremely important because there is often a gap between how people think others experience them and how other people actually experience them (Think of Michael Scott from the show The Office or The Dunning-Kruger Effect).
External self-awareness is best strengthened when you rely on what Tasha Eurich calls, your loving critics. People who both care about you and who are willing to give you honest feedback.
Not all feedback is created equal. The feedback that comes from someone who doesn’t like you needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Similarly, the feedback you receive from people who care about you so much they are afraid to be honest with you, should not be blindly trusted.
The best case scenario is you have loving critics who you can
- get reliable feedback from
- double-check feedback you receive from overly-critical and overly-caring colleagues
Now, take a moment to write down five loving critics you have / could rely on.
Leadership Styles and Framework
Countless numbers of leadership styles/theories exist. Not one is perfect. Not one can do it all. The person behind a leadership style is really what makes a leadership style effective.
The three styles discussed here and plugged into the subsequent framework were chosen because they help us flex and balance the urgency of work with the importance of work.
The above framework is a starting point to think about how you want to show up and flex to different circumstances as a leader.
Sometimes, you as the leader will need to make a quick decision (authoritarian). There will be little/no time to collaborate as much as you would like because the risk is too high. But, applying this approach for long periods of time hurts employee morale.
On a day-to-day basis, it might be most useful to find ways to foster autonomy, make meaning for people, and inspire them (transformational). It takes time and practice to be an effective transformational leader but pays off in the end.
You’ll also need to create a sense of belonging/community, innovate, and brainstorm (inclusive). This approach is group-driven. It usually takes more time to make decisions; however, outputs are more holistic and creative. Relationships may also benefit best from this approach.
Each of these three leadership styles is effective when applied to the scenarios they are best suited for. Loads of other leadership approaches exist as well.
Don’t worry about finding and applying “the right one.” Instead, take what you like from the leadership styles you’re exposed to during your career and allow them to inform/tweak your personal (and intentionally crafted) leadership approach.
Create your Own Leadership Approach
This step incorporates your introspection from the self-awareness section and any high-level ideas from the leadership styles and framework section. While doing this you need to rely on your internal authority.
What I mean by this is, only incorporate things in your statement that you intrinsically want to. Don’t include something if you feel like you just should because someone says so.
You probably have lots of feedback from people you could include — but only include the pieces you are convinced are essential to informing how you lead.
Step 1 — Values: Think about and respond to these questions.
- I believe work/the world is best off when/if…
- I believe work/life is most rewarding when/if…
- I believe that when we work together…
- I believe people thrive when…
Step 2 — Identify Role Models: The best leader(s) I’ve been around/seen are _____ and I’m fond of them because _____.
Step 3 — Define Success: I will know I am being the type of leader I want to be when…
- I see _____ happen.
- I feel _____.
- I do _____.
- When people say _____ about me as a manager/leader.
Step 4 — Write your statement: Bring it all together using the template below but don’t hesitate to stray from it. Make it yours.
- I am the type of leader that…
- I… (insert things you do / how you will be the leader you want to be)
- So that… (insert what happens/the impact you want to see)
The most effective leaders are those who strive to be self aware, who can flex their leadership to different scenarios, and who have taken time to put words to who they are becoming and how they want to show up.
Pause to be intentional and your teams/organizations will be perform better.
As always, feel free to reach out, and good luck!