Often, people think leadership equals charisma… great public speaking… being out front… just as we think sales is about speaking and making a great case. But you and I know leadership and sales are about having the right strategic conversations, asking the right questions, “listening to understand, rather than to respond” as the late, great Peter Drucker said. Leaders set clear expectations, model the behavior they seek and measure results, impact and the value of the work. Leadership design means being an intentional leader/manager. Understanding your strengths, weaknesses and blind spots – those things that tend to trip you up repeatedly. You have to know what type of leader you want to be, design it, work toward it and measure the results.
Only you can know what type of leader your organization needs and you want to become. But here are some things to think about as you design your leadership future.
Your attitude sets the tone. Early in my management career, I learned a powerful lesson. After a very tough day in the office, I packed up my things and dragged myself to the parking lot. Head down, shoulders rounded, I felt and looked beaten down. To my right, I heard the click of boots on the pavement. “Karen Osborne,” said a strong female voice, “If that’s how you feel, then there is no hope for the rest of us.”
“T” kept right on walking, but her message hit home. No matter how bad things got, I never left my office again without my shoulders back, my head high and smile on my face. Leadership guru Doug Dickerson agrees. Our attitude affects everyone around us. If we are positive, can-do, empathetic, ethical and humble, if we focus on the right things, so will they.
Own and learn from your errors. My Dad used to say, “I’ve never been wrong. Oh yeah, except for that one time, but then it turned out that was right.” Hmmm. Not the right message. You need your team to try new things and know you have the team’s back. We all have to learn from our errors. “Fail forward,” as David Bornstein calls the learning that comes from less-than-stellar experiences. Learn from the things that work as well.
To achieve fresh approaches and encourage learning something new every day, it starts with you. Ask yourself, “What did I learn from this mistake?” Share the mistake and the lessons with the team. “Here’s what I tried. Here’s what worked and here’s what didn’t.” “This is what I plan to do differently going forward.” If you can be vulnerable, so can they. And be sure to ask what Terry Jones, author of On Innovation calls the “quiet question” of your team members: “What did you learn?” (Laura and Neesha recorded a podcast on this very topic: Brilliant Failure. Give it a listen.)
Ask questions and listen. If fact, asking strategic questions, listening carefully, and unpacking meaning with follow-up questions is such a powerful skill, it drives success. Getting good at having strategic conversations should be part of your leadership design. If you’d like a list of strategic management questions to help you lead by design, click here.
Measure results. Ever leadership design needs a set of clear objectives and the right metrics. Consider sending out an anonymous survey to test your leadership skills. Fill out our questionnaire, “Management & Leadership IQ” to see how you do. If you are going to create leadership by design, you have to start and end with the right information and the right data.