Leadership can be complicated if we allow it to be. There are thousands of books on the market on how to improve your leadership skills. Everyone has their own idea on how leadership, in their opinion, should be done. How someone leads is dependent on situational circumstance, difference in generational belief systems, department culture etc... What I have found to be true in my experience is that no matter what situation you are in or how difficult the culture is, your people just want you to be an advocate for them. I am a huge fan of keeping things simple. Through studying leadership, I have noticed a pattern that primarily distills down into four simple (not easy) concepts.
The acronym L.E.A.D. can be used to help you with processing information and determining the necessary actions to take in order to have a positive result. Now, as leaders, it is incumbent to understand that we will not be able to solve every problem that is presented to us. To be honest, I don't think that our crews expect that either. What they truly want is to be listened to, understood and to feel like everything was done that could have been to reach a positive outcome.
The acronym L.E.A.D. stands for:
L-Listen, Don't just hear.
E-Empathize Authentically/ Enable
D-Drive Toward a Positive Outcome
Let's break these down into each letter and further discuss what each one means.
L - Listen, Don't just hear.
There is a fundamental difference between hearing someone say something and listening to what they say. By definition, hearing what someone says means you are only recognizing the sounds, not internalizing it. This has been a struggle of mine, because for many years I spent my time listening in order to make a response. For me this meant I was picking up key words in order to respond and once my response was made I was unable to focus on the rest of the message because I was focusing on responding. In my experience listening to respond is as ineffective as only hearing the message.
Active Listening is an art. It takes patience and the ability to defer bias until the complete message is received. This is not easy and can take quite a bit of practice. But without this step, all of the others will suffer and the ability to end with a positive result is more difficult. Some steps to becoming a better listener that I have used are as follows:
- Remove distractions, electronics especially
- Make eye contact
- Give active feedback, this helps keep your mind from wandering onto something else and helps you break the message into smaller chunks. It also helps the messenger see you are picking up what they are putting down.
E - Empathize Authentically & Enable
Empathizing with someone’s situation is the next concept in achieving a positive outcome. Being empathetic shows that we appreciate the situation at hand. Notice I didn't say understand the situation at hand. Having an appreciation for the situation allows for some room for us to seek to understand whatever it is we are discussing. This is especially true if we are a leader that has not served in a particular job or may have not had direct experience with that particular environment. The worst thing you can do is say that you understand, when you truly don't. Even if you do understand and have not been in their shoes it will be much more difficult to convince others that you are being authentic. So, if you don't have the experience, seek to understand and spend time learning the environment so you can empathize authentically.
When I use the word authentic, I just mean be yourself and shed the ego. Don't try to be something you’re not. As we progress up the ladder it is impossible to be an expert in all of the areas we may be responsible for. Our ego tells us otherwise. As we move up, it becomes even more essential to trust our people and empower them to do the great work they are already doing. Don't be afraid to make mistakes and when you do, own them. That leads me to the next concept, accepting responsibility.
A - Accept Responsibility
Great leaders generally do one thing very well, they accept responsibility for all areas of their life. Even if you cannot control a situation or outcome, accepting responsibility means controlling your reaction and attitude towards that situation. I would imagine that most leaders struggle with this area because we spend our lives as problem solvers. As our responsibilities grow and our jobs become more complicated, we can sometimes become problem controllers. This is not the same because our focus shifts from leading to managing. Managers tend to want to control outcomes. Leaders tend to facilitate in order to reach a particular outcome. Leaders have to be humble, knowing that they often cannot control every situation, but how they react in those situations can greatly impact those involved and the outcome in a positive way.
Accepting responsibility of everything is essential. This includes identifying and working on your own weaknesses. This requires putting your ego aside and asking those around you for feedback, both good and bad. Especially, the bad. Accept the feedback as a challenge to improve our own abilities and create new habits that can improve ourselves and hopefully those around us.
D- Drive Toward a Positive Outcome
In any situation, the overarching goal should be to reach a positive outcome whenever possible. Every situation is different and the path to that outcome may need to be flexible. If we have listened our people, empathized with them in an authentic way and accepted responsibility for the task at hand, we will not only be able to select the right people for the job, we will improve our chances that a positive result will occur.
Don't be afraid of ideas that may seem unorthodox, the worst thing that can happen is you fail. Accept failure as part of the process. The goal in every situation is NOT to come to an agreement. The goal should be to have a positive outcome, which may mean that we agree to disagree, and that's ok.
Once we have the right people in the right places, our job as leaders is to trust them and facilitate their needs. It's a simple concept, but often difficult in application.
In conclusion, my hope is by incorporating these concepts into daily practice we can all become better leaders and experience what I as a leader hopes for and that is to simply leave the environment we are in and those in it, better than they were when we first encountered them.