A friend of mine, who is a doctor, was recounting giving a lecture to other doctors about leadership. In that speech, one of her main points was that to be an effective leader, you need to address your own part in the dynamic, that self-knowledge was a necessary part of being a good leader.
To no one’s surprise (especially mine) one doctor reacted, well, let’s just say poorly to this advice. The ‘It’s not about you. It’s about them.” argument.
It still amazes me how many people dig their heels in and don’t want to even entertain the concept that their leadership can be that much more effective by giving a critical examination to their habits, their thought patterns, their biases, and their weak spots.
It’s not an exercise in blame and it’s not pointing the finger at any leader that they’re the guilty party.
While the purpose of leadership is helping others, to be effective you constantly have to be self-assessing to be your best possible self.
Self Knowledge and Self Reflection
While my physical body has been on the planet for 52 years, I’m not the same person I was 20 years ago, I’m a totally different human. And that means that I’ve gained new insight and learned from my experiences. We all have!
But it takes self-reflection and the process of self-assessment to really bring those lessons and experiences into some context. That examination is the key difference in living experiences versus learning from them.
I’m continually asking myself:
Where are my gaps?
Where are my weaknesses?
If you aren’t self-assessing, how can you grow?
Where am I right now? Start with that.
Here’s one thing I know about myself: I’m a verbal thinker. To think an idea out, I need to say it out loud. It’s how my brain works best. Having that knowledge about myself has allowed me to reshape my communication with my staff for the better.
I’ve learned to say “Hey, I’m just thinking out loud here…” Because before I did that, I would be thinking out loud, but the people around me didn’t know that I was doing that. They would interpret my words as statements, orders, instructions — rather than just thoughts. “You mean we’re not hiring a new nurse?” Someone would say and I’d say, “What do you mean? Why did you think we were? We never decided on that?” and they’d replied “Well, you said something yesterday about hiring a new nurse…” Ahhhh. You see the confusion?
So I’ve learned. My need is to think out loud, to verbalize my thoughts for them to make sense. Knowing that about me helps. Knowing that others might interpret that differently and I should adjust my statements to help them understand better, helps us all in the long run. The team understands better, because I’ve learned to communicate better. What a concept, right?
Communication Styles Vary
Our communication styles play an enormous role in how we lead. It makes sense because, after all, communication is our main means of transferring information to one another. If we’re speaking different styles, and not realizing that we are, our messages can miss their target. It’s only by chance that you’ll align in the same way. So what do you do when you don’t align? Many times we’re not even aware there is a difference in how we communicate. That’s why taking the time to self-assess is important.
For example, one staffer once was in a meeting her manager was leading. Several times she opened with “I feel,” to support her ideas and proposals. Her manager pulled her aside afterwards thinking he was offering her sound advice and said “You say ‘I feel’ a lot which lessens your arguments. Try saying ‘I think,’ which is stronger and more about thoughts than feelings.” I’ll go out on a limb here and say that conversation never should have happened. There are data driven people and feeling driven people and one is not better than the other. Some percentage of your team will say I think and some percentage will say I feel. Let me repeat that: they are equally important parts of your team. Instead his implication was that feelings are weaker than thoughts and there’s an air of misogyny to that message.
As a leader this manager should have flexed to take on another’s style, rather than exercise his power and make everyone else do things his way. But my guess is that this guy wasn’t even aware that he was unaware. He couldn’t address what he didn’t know was an issue, which is why it’s important for us to do better in understanding how different people process and communicate differently. We can’t change what we don’t even acknowledge.
If you aren’t sure of someone’s style, work on observing their actions and statements. Someone might not always say, “I need to write this down before I can process it,” but you might observe that you get a better response if you suggest they get back to you in a day with their answers, rather than press them on a call for an immediate response.
We all have gaps and blind spots in how we manage and lead. There’s no maybe in there, we just do. It only becomes a weakness when we let our pride and insecurities get in the way of recognizing them. So don’t be scared to look into yourself for your blind spots. I assure you it will only make you a better, more agile leader.