Day 1. The buses once again were on the city’s streets. Parents were at the stops with cameras. They proudly (sadly) (gleefully) put their children on the buses.
The teachers were waiting for them, armed with a set of specific objectives. Over the the next nine months, each student has much to learn.
Suppose it’s your first day too. You have nine months to master the skills you need to be an extraordinary leader. What skills do you need to learn or polish?
Allow me to offer 10 suggestions, just in case you are coming up empty.
1. Help your team find its purpose
A clear and meaningful purpose focuses and energizes your group. For some teams, the purpose is obvious and inspirational. It’s easy to imagine an emergency room team rallying around, “We save lives.” Most work doesn’t feel quite so dramatic. Nevertheless, your team needs to believe in its value. Your job is to help them see what it is.
2. Communicate expectations
You want employees to meet your expectations. It’s as simple as that. And when they don’t, you are disappointed at best and angry at worst. Is it their fault? Maybe. It could also be yours. Perhaps you haven’t clearly communicated your expectations. It’s also possible that your expectations are not reasonable. It’s time to make them clear and reasonable.
3. Deliver feedback
Employees need to know how they are doing. They depend on your feedback to meet that need. The majority of the feedback you provide should reinforce desired behaviors. A smaller, but equally important portion should focus on changing behaviors. Most managers don’t provide enough of either. And when they do offer it, their lack of skill creates new problems. Do you provide adequate feedback?
Strong listening skills help you in two ways. First, you more clearly understand people and concepts. This leads to better decisions. Second, active listening helps others feel like you care about them, which increases respect. The result is stronger, more trusting relationships with your employees, peers, and manager.
5. Ask great questions
When you hear an answer you don’t like, it could be that you asked the wrong question. Forming and asking skillful questions can improve your team’s creativity, problem-solving, productivity, and results. Unfortunately, people place more emphasis on the answers rather than the questions. This misplaced emphasis leads them down an unintended path. It’s time for you to ask the right questions.
6. Speak up when no one else will
Sometimes the problem isn’t what to say. The real challenge is determining if you should say anything at all. There are plenty of situations in which speaking up seems like a dangerous option. And yet, it’s clear that someone has to find the courage. Will that someone be you?
7. Deal with meeting trouble-makers
Every meeting has a couple. There’s the person who dominates the conversation. There’s the one who is all heavy sighs and eye rolls. Some will take you off track. A few will distract you with their phones. The worst will leave you shaking in your shoes. If only meeting participants would be on their best behavior. As you are well aware, they often are not. It’s time you learned to deal with these people.
8. Getting others to say yes
Sometimes there isn’t a lot of room for deciding what the right answer should be. Instead, you have a request, and you need others to do it. The challenge is getting them to say yes, especially when you don’t hold formal authority over the person you are asking. Imagine how much easier your life would be if the answer to your requests is a resounding, “Yes.”
9. Communicate a change
Many of the problems that arise during major (and even minor) organizational changes can be traced back to ineffective communication. There are critical questions you must answer for employees. When it’s your job to get employees moving in a new direction, you’ll need to know what and how to communicate, so
that your team members understand the change and more quickly accept it, especially when you believe they won’t like it.
Everyone falls. And if you claim that you don’t, that would be a shame because it means you aren’t trying hard enough. Learn to fall in a way that doesn’t create permanent damage. Discover how to get back on your feet more quickly when you do go down. Be a role model your employees can follow when they struggle.
Ready to learn?
There is always plenty to learn as a leader. It’s too easy to leave the learning to the kids because you are busy doing the work.
Of course, there are lessons in the work too, but sometimes by focusing on the lesson itself, you can learn the skills you didn’t know you were missing. You’re also likely to learn the lesson more quickly.
I’ve provided 10 suggestions. There are so many others. The 10 I’ve listed are part of the 49 session Leadership Expedition catalog I developed. The sessions are short, focused, and experiential. Could you and other leaders in your organization benefit from these?
School’s in for the kids. I hear it ringing for you as well.
Image credit: John Picken Photography via Flickr (cc)