Here’s the one thing that separates great leaders from go-getters.
Peter Isenberg led a group of traders at a global investment bank.
He was a go-getter.
Just not as knowledgeable as he would’ve liked to be.
But that didn’t stop him from directing trades in markets he knew little about.
The harder he tried, the worse it got.
One day the senior traders on his team stopped answering his questions altogether.
Things got tense when people started demanding motivations for his directives.
That’s when he realised he needed to start asking for help.
And when he asked questions, traders would stop what they were doing to answer them.
Once he opened himself up to learning from others, he found that people would actually listen to him as well.
Isenberg’s story isn’t unique.
I came across it when I was struggling with my own misconceptions about leadership.
And I learned that same lesson: you can’t lead people who take pride in what they do until you stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about them.
The skills that make you a trail-blazer don’t make you a good leader.
There’s nothing easy or quick about leadership but sticking to false expectations is a sure way to hold yourself back.
Adopting qualities that increase your credibility will propel you forward.
Because when people aren’t committed, they don’t take initiative and will just hunker down further in their own silos.
Without initiative, you won’t be able to successfully delegate and will struggle to implement any new initiatives.
Your credibility as a leader is earned in the field.
Your position and track record only add so much.
The rest comes from demonstrating your competence for leadership, influence and strong character.
1) Demonstrating your competence
As a leader, you need to be clear about your role in the team and be able to demonstrate that you have the necessary skills for the job.
I lead a strategy team that includes Digital Consultants, Service Designers, Communication Strategists and Analysts.
I don’t have deep expertise in everything my team does because they know their jobs so that I don’t have to.
My core competence is operations aka getting sh*t done.
My job is to empower my team members, build new products and optimise their delivery. I’m there to help them succeed at their job and my job is to show up every time my competence is needed.
2) Demonstrating your influence
As a leader, you need to establish influence within your organisation because nobody wants to work for a powerless boss.
Gaining and wielding that influence isn’t particularly easy but making yourself available to contribute to projects and problems outside your team is the first step.
I schedule regular catch-ups with key stakeholders in my company who directly work with my team.
I have an added benefit of being in the leadership team which allows me to keep up and participate in projects outside the scope of my team.
3) Demonstrating your character
As a leader, your primary responsibility is the success of your team and the professional growth of your teammates.
You need to make it a priority to demonstrate that you’re stepping into your role with an intention to be a fair leader who does the right thing.
You have to stand firm in your own choices as a leader.
You need to listen to everyone, make space for them to be heard, yet not be overly influenced by one single opinion.
In the end, it’s your job to make the call. And if you make a mistake (which happens less when you listen to people more) you have to be humble enough to admit it and rectify it without falling into self-pity.
Your job is to be as useful as possible to your team and to facilitate them doing the best work they possibly can.
As a leader, you’re responsible for improving the system.
When the majority of people behave in a particular way most of the time, the people are not the problem.
The problem is systemic.
Every leader makes two types of decisions: stroke-of-the-pen decisions, which require very little thought, and decisions that require profound behaviour change.
The latter is the kind that can deliver long-term success, though it takes more work.
If you need that kind of change but fail to elicit the required behaviour change in your team, you’re guaranteed to fail.
And the only way to get people to commit to behaviour change is to give up on the myth of authority and embrace the realities of collaboration instead.