If you’re new to leadership and hungry to learn (as we discussed here), no doubt you are reading every article and book you can find, and listening to all the leadership gurus’ podcasts. You’re hearing things like “leaders go first” or “leaders eat last”. You’re learning that leadership is influence, that mindset is everything, and that character is critical. It’s all true, but how do you simplify all this into something you can do day in and day out as you develop? Glad you asked.
Take a deeper look at anything you’re reading or listening to. I guarantee there’s a common theme in all these leadership lessons, and here it is – people are always watching the leader. If you keep that simple truth in front of you, it can provide fuel for your leadership journey. Because here’s a little secret, most people in management positions do not set a good example in this area. They forget the importance of being positive, paying attention, and supporting the leadership in front of others. And any time a majority of people in your circles behave one way, this provides a perfect opportunity for you to handle yourself differently and stand out in front of those with eyes on you. Here are four simple rules to follow knowing you’re always being watched:
- Live by the core values – I’ve mentioned this in almost every article but it’s important. The values are the guardrails for the organization. In fact, it’s very likely the leader you’re hoping to impress was involved in coming up with those values. If they’re important to your leader, they should be the workplace gospel for you. The #2 way for a leader to lose credibility is to violate the core values right in front of those they lead or follow. What’s #1? Hang on for a minute.
- Be decisive – leaders who won’t make decisions ultimately cannot be trusted with the responsibility of leading. That’s a truth you can bank on. Since most people won’t take the risk to stick their neck out, you can stand out because you learned how to make good solid decisions here right? Side note: if you work for a great leader you can trust, I promise you they want you to get really good at this, because they know the process of making decisions is crucial to your development as a leader. They also know the more people making good decisions throughout the organization, the fewer decisions the top leader has to be involved in. This allows the top leader(s) to focus on vision, planning and execution.
- Take responsibility – Above we learned to be decisive. Over my 20 years of leadership, I had to work to develop my decision-making skills. The best way I was taught was to make decisions then evaluate the process and outcome with my leader(s). If you make decisions, sooner or later you’re going to make a wrong one. Own it. I repeat, OWN IT! If you don’t own it, or worse, if you try to throw someone else under the bus, you’re not worth following. That’s a bold statement but a solid truth. Here’s why. If you won’t take responsibility for your mistakes, you no longer have the platform to hold others accountable. And if you can’t hold others accountable, you can’t lead.
- Match your words and actions – you have to walk the talk. This point spins off the one above, taking responsibility. I gave you the #2 killer of credibility earlier. So, what’s the #1 way a leader loses credibility? When their actions don’t line up with their own words. Ever been around a leader who says all the right things then won’t do them himself, like he’s above it all? You’d never follow them into battle would you? So if you do this, your troops will not have your back, your credibility is gone, and you’re a boss by title alone. Because without followers, you are not a leader. You have to match your words and actions, to show those watching that you’re trustworthy and have character. And only when they believe you are trustworthy can you build relationships that will ultimately allow you to hold them accountable. Spoiler alert: I have a future article coming on how to be a relational leader.
These four behaviors are not hard, even though it’s been my experience that few people do all of them well. You just have to realize they’re important, focus on being self-aware about them, and set up check points that keep you from getting off track. I do this by having other leaders give me honest feedback. In my professional life, I have outside mentors to keep me accountable and give me guidance, but I also have peers inside the company I trust to bust my chops if I mess one of these up. And I do the same for them.
So, if this topic hits home with you, I have a few homework assignments for you. Find that person you know will hold you accountable and tell them you’re working on these four things. Have them watch you over a one-month period and alert you when you’re not following one or more of these in front of others. After about 30-45 days, you should be very self-aware and have a few things you can work on to improve where you feel you were weak. Meet with your accountability partner about once a month going forward so they can continue to help you develop these areas. Also, sit down with your leader and let them know you want their feedback on how you’re doing as an example to others. Be willing to accept their observations, criticisms and advice and trust that this feedback will be valuable to your path as an emerging leader. Finally, and this takes a lot of confidence, ask those you lead to hold you accountable for setting a good example. This kind of permission lays the groundwork for solid relationships and healthy communication you’ll need to be successful as you grow.