Leading by example
Examining the real impact of leadership.
William James, the famed American philosopher and psychologist, once said, “When two people meet there are really six people present. There is each person as they see themselves, each person as the other person sees them, and each person as they really are.” As a leader, how do you see yourself? And, even more important, how do the people you lead see you?
Every action you take and every interaction you have leaves a lasting impact on others. You can have the best of intentions, but if your impact isn’t aligned with the intention, your leadership may not be as effective as it could be. Why? Because what matters is not who you think you are, but the experience other people have with you.
Now before you say, “I don’t care what other people think of me,” realize that you don’t need to care what they think. You do, however, have to care about the impact you have on others, on your organization, and your industry. Your impact leaves a lasting mark.
Most leaders have never detailed their personal creed. But doing so can be incredibly powerful. Get clear about who you think you are. Who are you and what do you stand for? What do you value? What is your personal creed or stance in the roles that are most important to you in your life? How do you want to be known in your company and industry? Once you have those questions answered, ask the most important question of all: “How do the things I just detailed show up when I’m frustrated or when things aren’t going well? Who am I then?” Most leaders lose credibility when things are bad because they haven’t thought about who they are in those situations and the kind of impact they’ll have.
There are two ways to get information about your impact: you can ask for feedback either indirectly or directly. An indirect approach is doing an online and anonymous survey of some sort using a tool like Survey Monkey. While it’s simple to do, the results are not always specific. A direct approach is to talk with someone you trust and ask specific questions so you can get key insights.
The secret to making direct questions work is to phrase them properly. If you ask someone, “Can you give me feedback on my leadership style?” you won’t get the information you need. That’s a difficult question for most people to answer because it’s not focused enough, and no one wants to hurt another person’s feelings. Ask a more focused question, like, “During today’s meeting, I think I may have sounded defensive when I told Chris that the idea would never work. How did it land for you? What was your experience of being in that meeting?” Notice that you’re not asking for an evaluation. You’re pointing out a specific incident or behavior and asking the person about their personal experience during that moment – the impact you had.
If the results of the feedback you receive don’t align with your personal perceptions about yourself, it’s time to make some changes, not to you, but to your impact. First, get curious about the mismatch, not furious about the information. You might be a motivating, empowering, and uplifting kind of leader, but under certain conditions, even the most esteemed person can come across as harsh, cold, and defensive. In other words, know your blind spots so you can shed some light on them.
There’s no avoiding it: all leaders leave a lasting impact. What’s yours?
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