You’ve always been a leader.
If you look back over your life, you’ll recognize moments when you applied critical leadership skills, perhaps without realizing it. However, to become a better, more influential, and impactful leader, you have to mindfully demonstrate leadership traits. There are three essential elements everyone can consciously apply to become a stronger leader.
Leaders Lean Into Discomfort
Whether it’s eating vegetables as a child or taking an unwanted class to graduate, you must do things you do not want to do. The higher you rise on the leadership chain, the more willingly you need to lean into discomfort.
For example, no one enjoys leading an employee performance plan for a struggling employee, much less having a conversation with that employee about why improvement is necessary. Yet, it must be done. Leaders who are overly reflective need to learn how to take action quicker, even when uncomfortable. They must have a process for gaining the best information they have access to at the time, and then taking action. At the same time, leaders who are too quick must pace themselves to gain information before pressing forward.
Leaning into discomfort is about fulfilling your obligations and expectations as a leader. Share your ambitions with your department or business. If you are not a great communicator when sharing an idea in public, find someone you trust who can help you refine your message, or who can organize and present your thoughts for you (i.e. a spokesperson). However you go about it, it’s critical that you share your vison for your department or business with those involved.
Leaders Learn from Mistakes
One time, as an operations manager, I undercut my service manager by telling one of his techs that he needed to step up and take on-call. And I did it in front of a group of technicians who were standing around gathering parts and materials for their trucks. Only later did I learn that the tech in question had been removed from the on-call rotation because he had a child in the hospital for an extended period of time.
You want to look unprofessional? Do what I did that day. You want to look like a leader? Do what I did afterward: as soon as I found out the backstory, I made a public apology after directly apologizing to the technician.
The lesson I learned from this mistake: Gather information, take my time when speaking, and resist the urge to jump to conclusions. I also learned that when I start to feel emotions rising in a heated conversation, it’s okay to call a timeout. To take a break from the conversation and let emotions settle.
Leaders Lead Workplace Culture
Leadership begins before you have a title. How you handle an angry customer or a disagreement with a coworker is being measured. How you respond in times of stress or under a tight deadline will determine whether those watching will follow or challenge you.
No one should blindly follow you. People are more likely to follow your lead when you develop a track record of thoughtful and balanced actions. And if you are the owner or president of your business, people will have a heightened awareness of your leadership style. Every conversation you have with employees, partners, customers, and others creates the culture of your business. If everything is a joke to you, do not be upset when your team doesn’t take things seriously either. If you are always uptight, your team will respond to you the same way that a customer responds to a rude call center rep.
Remember, you are not exempt from being fired, just as that disrespectful call center rep isn’t. If you’re the owner of your business and don’t have a boss, consider yourself fired every time an employee leaves for another company. Employees are voting for your leadership every day when they choose to stay with you or find new opportunities.
Being a leader is not easy. You’re in the spotlight and you must make significant decisions each day. Therefore, I invite you to be the best version of the leader you want to be. You have already leaned into discomfort. You have learned how to learn from your mistakes and adjust accordingly. Now, in every interaction, focus on the culture you are creating with your behavior. Be the greatest leader you can be, and when you fall short, reassess, pick yourself up, and get back after it. You were built for this.