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Embracing challenges in leadership

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If life were plain sailing some might argue we’d have an easier time of it. It might be less challenging, for sure, but how would we ever grow and keep learning? Challenging times are no walk in the park, but they teach us far more than when things are just ticking along.

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Every organisation has moments that challenge the status quo. Where there are people, there are always going to be mixed opinions and personality clashes. Handling tricky situations is part and parcel of leadership. Denying the existence of them might seem like a more comfortable option but leadership comes with responsibility and when we fail to take action, the implications can be quite damaging. The first sign of a winning mindset is the acceptance of responsibility.

Culture saboteurs

The workplace is a melting pot of all sorts of characters. As a leader, it’s important to identify personality types so you know what motivates individuals. Inevitably there will be naysayers, ‘lone rangers’ and comfort-zone dwellers within any organisation, and it’s really important that they don’t sabotage the culture. Those who refuse to sign up to a standard of performance set by the leader are effectively saying they’re not team players and while big characters and egos can bring flashes of brilliance, nobody is bigger than the team.

Everyone must operate at the speed of the team’s needs, not at their own. This lays down a  tough challenge for even the most adept leader, but for winning mindsets with a passion for lighting up boardrooms, it’s a challenged to be faced head on.

Setting clear intentions

Before embarking on a difficult conversation, it’s vital to work from the end result backwards and pay attention to the following pointers:

  • Ensure you have clarity of intent before even broaching the conversation
  • Reflect on how your intentions will be met by individuals, based on a thorough understanding of their personality – it comes back to knowing your team
  • Question whether your conversation will leave responsibility and choice with the individual. If it doesn’t then this can be disempowering and your approach may backfire
  • Consider that if you need to intervene in the scenario, is your relationship with that individual strong enough to withstand this?

Levels of listening

How many of us really listen when we’re engaging with members of the team? The greatest leaders are those who understand the importance of listening, and doing so on a deeper level to consider what’s really going on. I talk about the six levels of listening so that leaders can explore communication in the following ways:

  1. Listening to the content of the conversation
  2. Focusing on the pace of speech and what is being said
  3. Watching out for non-verbal cues and body language – it speaks volumes
  4. Homing in on values within the chat that drive the content
  5. Sensing emotional undercurrents beyond words
  6. Listening to the unsaid. The subtext is often far more potent than the words themselves

Don’t make it personal

Conversations that are loaded with pressure can easily change direction if they aren’t carefully navigated. Leaders can be direct and clear, but if they stray into personal territory it can derail the original intention and accelerate into blame apportionment, which undermines the team culture.

It’s also important to understand that we’re all human, so we make errors from time to time, though mindset will dictate whether failure is a cul-de-sac of negativity or a highway to success. If negativity builds up in a team then it carries a collective burden that can do all sorts of damage.

Feed forward

While it’s tempting to analyse and obsess over what has happened, it’s not helpful in restoring momentum and can have a critical effect on team morale. Authentic winning mindsets look to the next moment and recognise the importance of motivating and inspiring their team. Feeding forward is something I used to use in half-time talks when the clock was ticking and emotions were all over the show in the training room. By focusing on how to make positive changes, and prompting team members to come up with their own solutions rather than directing demands at them, it injected the atmosphere with intention, drive and collective enthusiasm.

Another key aspect of strong leadership is to recognise that you can’t preach about something and not do it yourself. Words and actions need to be consistent to enable trust and respect and to bind a team together as one unit in the drive for continuous improvement.

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