Whether you are a leader of many or leader as an expert, every leader is keen to be strong. Leaders want to be able to show up and act as a strong leader all the time in any context. Many factors including the environment, personal energy levels, clarity of communication, knowing the wider context and what is going on outside work all affect strength in leaders.
Try these approaches to build and maintain your strength as a leader.
Manage yourself so you are fit for purpose.
If the pressure of being a strong leader has put you in to fight-flight-freeze mode first give yourself permission to calm yourself so you can gather your thoughts and be in the best place to take action. Using a simple centering technique to calm your brain can help to show your brain that you are not in danger. An inconspicuous method that I teach clients is to notice their feet and breathing patterns. Asking them to feel their feet in their shoes. This can be done whether sitting or standing so goes unnoticed. Then reminding them to exhale fully and inhale again. Breathe. Followed with thinking about what next. For the stronger amongst you, you can also start meetings with your teams with this technique. Most people arrive at meetings in a rush. To aid calm ask everyone to breath in for the count of 4, hold for the count of 4, breath out for the count of 4 and hold for a count of 4. Repeat. My favourite is getting outside (smokers make the time) ideally for a short walk in nature. Walking meetings are a great opportunity to think and add calmness to the conversation.
Clarify what you mean.
Knowing that you and your team are working from the same page can enhance strength. One leader I worked with had no interest in the translating. He continued to use statements like “We need to raise the bar” ” Doing what we have always done wont get us to where we need to be”. Things didn’t feel like they were changing, and frustration set in. The team had heard the request but there was no equal understanding as to what ‘raining the bar’ meant to the leader, each individual and as a collective team. I coached the team to come up with methods of making sure they were on the right track. They came up with the ” I understand X, I/we have done Y. I have the opportunities with Z. I would like to discuss next steps” Although the leader’s natural preference is to think from a big picture perspective, he has learnt to listen to and work through some of the detail. Regularly staying closer to relevant detail has meant greater clarity and management of expectations. It has also allowed the team to share more ambitious solutions. On another occasion when a leader drifted, the team had permission to ask for clarity. Is this a blue-sky thinking moment or should we clarify the needs of today? Fundamentally the leader and the team feel stronger. It has given confidence all round and builds trust that the ‘relevant’ progress is being made.
Gauge whether you are gaining traction.
Everyone likes to feel they are making a difference. Everyone likes to understand what value they are bringing. We know companies like Amazon give direct weekly feedback to their direct reports. Whilst coaching emerging leaders they have shared different approaches including holding yourself account, gaining feedback internally and externally, getting recommendations from clients, being noticed by people you admire, valued and thanked invested in. A personalised approach that works for you is best. One leader I worked with created open dialogue with her team. Open dialogue was created through focusing what went well for a specific area that they wanted to focus on well in in the moment i.e. after a meeting. This was two way. It created trust with each member of the team.
Know your wider context.
When you know what is on the radar, internally and externally, there is a reassurance that the decisions you are making are relevant to the context. We are not just talking with your department and wider business but externally too. It may seem an impossible task, however leaders I have worked with said the time is so valuable. It provides strength in knowing what is going on around you and what might be on the horizon to deal with. What is the hardest bit is ‘making the time’. Plan it early like the beginning of the financial year. One option a leader I worked with utilised their admin / personal assistant, so they held the leader accountable. If you don’t have direct support, ask your team or mentor to hold you accountable.
Create a network of support internally and externally to the business.
Being a leader can be lonely. Whether things are going to plan or not there is no one who you feel safe talking to, getting advice or walking through your options. Having a safe environment to share ideas when you know you won’t be judged is encouraging and builds courage. Some work with internal or external mentors, some external coaches’ others trusted colleagues. These are the people that they can share openly what they think knowing that it’s a safe confidential space. It also gives you reassurance and strength you are on the right track.
Create Calm at home.
“What is going on behind the scenes makes me stronger as a leader”
Leaders are all aware of the balance battle between work and home life. Family whether children, animals or commitments in the community we need to have a balance. Guilt rides over us and if we are not careful this situation adds stress and we are not fully energised to be a strong leader. Listening to leaders they all have their unique approach. Habit seems to be the biggest challenge. Just like work unplanned challenges and opportunities happen at home resulting in more things for the to do list. Some clients refer to what they do just before walking in the door at home, others its sharing the load and for some its giving themselves a window in the diary for sorting. People commit and stick to thinks they are genuinely interested in doing.
Connect with your people.
Through connecting, strong leaders had a better idea as to what was going on, felt part of the community and enhanced the trust. It also showed that they, the leader, were human too. Connecting wasn’t some big event. It was an opportunity to listen to talk and to understand giving wider awareness of what is happening. So often leaders let time slip away as they become slave to meetings and workloads. One option a leader I worked with came up with was a rhythm that supported the business cycle. They identified the same time each month where they would work in the open space on the ground floor. It was a place that most people passed during the day so it increased the opportunity for people to bump into them. People would pop by for a chat. Another made sure they ate alongside fellow workers.
Make people feel safe.
When people are connected and feel part of a supported community, they feel safe. In so doing there is more freedom for everyone to utilise their strengths. When we are safe trust builds. When leaders are consistent, their behaviours consistently support their values, everyone sticks with them as they are predictable. If as a leader you are paying lip service to your values for the benefits of promotion or other work gains people lose faith in you. Respect and trust is lost. Many people don’t explicitly list their values but deep down at the core of you they sit having been built early in life. As a leader it’s good to pause and recognise whether what you are doing is consistently holding up your values.
At the end of the day being a stronger leader takes energy, confidence and clarity. You are there to serve and are responsible for making your team and your leader look successful. As unrealistic as it might seem, seeking time to maintain yourself, staying true to your values, gain insights from the local and wider communities and communicate clearly will allow you to have the strength whatever the context.