Whenever people tell me they want to be a leader, I always ask them ‘why’? Leadership isn’t easy. It’s usually pretty thankless. People will always have a list of things you should be doing better. And, of course, what’s on some people’s lists (listen better) is not on others (speak up more).
Leadership is a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows. When things go right, your team will get the credit but when things go wrong, you’ll take the blame. And by the way, everyone will tell you that you should be happy about that (when inside, you’re in need of recognition as much as the next person). Yes, leadership is gratifying. It’s amazing to see people blossom and to be able to guide and shape direction. I absolutely love leading, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that there are days when I wish I didn’t feel as passionately about leadership. It might make life a little less complicated.
Here are three ways to help you better navigate the turbulence that will inevitably arise in your career as a leader.
Leadership Competency to Avoid: Hysteria
As leaders, we get judged on all the actions we take. One dumb move can wipe out at least three to five smart moves you’ve made and take you much longer to recover from. String a number of dumb moves together and you’ll find yourself spending a long, long time digging out of the reputation mud. Studies show that if your first impression of someone is highly positive, they will have to screw up three times before you will change your opinion of them. The reverse is also true. If you screw up in a big way, then you’ll need to be spectacular at least three times before someone will change their opinion of you. Emphasis on the word spectacular. So, next time you need to make a decision in a time of crisis, keep your reputation intact and:
- Surround yourself with a diverse group of advisors who understand the issues fully and are as “agenda-free” as possible.
- Listen to your intuition.
- Take a deep breath and press pause.
- Step back and re-evaluate.
Self-Deprecation to Self-Sabotage: It’s a Fine Line
I learned a very important lesson last week: when someone asks you what you felt you did well, do not, under any circumstances, launch into a laundry list of self-criticism. Sure, it’s good to be able to identify your own areas for improvement, but when you’re being asked what worked and instead start sharing what didn’t, all you’re doing is putting the focus on the negative and sabotaging yourself.
Self-sabotage typically occurs because – at some level – our brain is trying to keep us (our ego) “safe”.
It often starts with that pesky inner critic whispering things like “this presentation isn’t going to go well. You didn’t prepare enough.” You then hit the stage and open with a remark like this: “I’m looking forward to today’s presentation, but I have to let you know, I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare so please keep that in mind as we move through. There was more that I would have done if I’d had a bit more time.” Essentially, you’ve planted the expectation that you’re not prepared which will cause people to look for your shortcomings. Then when you get feedback after the presentation that your content was a bit light, you’ve then lived up to your “promise”. Having a sense of humour about your failings and foibles isn’t a bad thing. Just be mindful that you’re not crossing over that fine line between self-deprecation and self-sabotage. Work is tough enough as it is. You don’t need to add to the pressure by getting in your own way!
How to Pull Yourself Out of the Pit of Despair
As human beings, we have a wonderful capacity to focus on what we didn’t do, what we had left to do, how we screwed things up, how we’re inadequate compared to others, etc., etc. It’s so painful!
But it’s also preventable. One of the things I’ve learned is that the key to happiness and contentment is to focus on what you’ve accomplished instead of focusing on the space between where you are now and where you wish you were. Recognizing your progress, accomplishments, and growth, all create positive feelings and can put negative situations in a better perspective. It doesn’t mean that the tough stuff is going to go away, but it does mean that you will be able to strengthen your mindset and navigate the rough waters more easily.
So, when you find yourself suddenly with the rug pulled out from under you through a layoff, a horrible professional misstep or some other perceived shortfall, try this:
- Reflect on what you’ve accomplished over the course of your career that makes you proud; list your successes; list your progress. Nothing is too small. Ignore the voice that may say “well, that was just doing your job.” Bull. It’s progress; capture it!
- Think about the people you’ve helped; think about the successful relationships you’ve built.
- Think about how far you’ve come from that person you were 6, 12 and 18 months ago – then, 6, 12 and 18 years ago.
Now take a deep breath. Doesn’t that feel better? Look at all that you’ve done! You’re AMAZING! All these talents and experiences are going to come forward with you, whatever your next adventure may be. How fabulous is that?!