Your burning leadership questions answered (pt 1)
Here's what you wanted to know and why it's so important
Welcome back to Lead with Intention! For new followers, every two weeks, I delve into a leadership topic that challenges us in the modern age of business. As a former Corporate Director turned leadership coach, I’ve learned that most leadership issues can be solved with a hefty dose of self-awareness and reflection. The problem is, many of our leaders lack the self-awareness to begin with! So we’re here to try and change that, to build a new collective of compassionate, empathetic leaders who can change the world…
In the last issue, I asked for your burning leadership questions, the ones that keep you up at night and that make you go “aaaagh” when you see someone doing it wrong.
Today, I’m going to answer the first and perhaps most fundamental of those questions (there were some good ones, thank you!) from a leadership and a coaching perspective. I hope it helps.
Let’s dive in…
(and yes, that is Tom Hanks. Google “David Pumpkins SNL” Delightfully random!)
Q. What are the most important leadership qualities and why?
A. If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll know where I’m going with this one. And it took me a few false starts in my own career, plus some pretty challenging reflection, to get me there.
Courage. Compassion. Curiousity.
I think we are suffering from an epidemic of poor leadership at the moment. All over the world. I live in the UK, where we see examples of this splashed across the news on a daily basis. And we see it in our daily lives too. From government’s failure to stand up to water companies (who are now pumping raw sewage onto our beaches), to leaders with zero (and I mean zero) compassion and/or professional curiousity, we are being over-run with noisy blow-hards who love the sound of their own voice and try and drown out others. Who preach but don’t practice. Who are happy to exclude, but not to include. And who cower in the face of challenge.
We need more courageous leaders.
I’ve shared this before, but it’s so apt, I’m going to share it again:
"The standard you walk by, is the standard you accept."
Do you have the courage to challenge poor behaviour?
It’s easy to let little decisions slide. Micro aggressions. Behaviours that irritate or aggravate or patronise. That don't sit well. But these things add up. And if they're not addressed, they make it harder and harder to find our voice when it really counts.
Imagine you’re constantly talked over in meetings (for many of us, I’m sure we don’t need to imagine!) You let it go and let it go. Until one day, you either explode or implode. Neither ideal leadership behaviour. (I’ve done both in the past and surprise, it didn’t work out well.)
Instead, think about calmly and dispassionately challenging that behaviour when it comes up…
“I would like to finish my point please, if you can wait a second…”
“I haven’t finished speaking yet…”
“When i’m finished speaking, I’ll turn to you next…”
Could you find the inner strength to do this in a meeting? To show others around you what you expect in terms of behaviour and what you won’t accept?
Could you use that courage to then make bigger, bolder decisions about the way things might be in your organisation?
Courage is the enemy of mediocrity - it forces us to step up to the plate.
How about compassion?
Aka empathy. Leading with empathy is one of the biggest things I focus on with the professionals I coach. It can be a lightbulb moment for many.
Have you ever asked someone how they might be feeling or why they might be feeling a certain way? Really let them sit in it with you and give them time and space to unfold their emotions? It can transform even the most challenging of relationships and lay the groundwork for constructive team working.
(By the way, that's what good coaches give you too - space and time to sit with how you are feeling, so you can start to understand why.)
I’m currently working with someone who is struggling with a challenging relationship at work. I asked them this question:
“Could you put yourself in their shoes for a moment? What might be going on for them that’s leading them to act in this way toward you?”
At first, they were indignant. Why would I be asking them to consider the feelings of this person that was causing them so much stress and heartache?
The penny drops. By considering what someone else might be going through, you can start to understand the root of their behaviour. And by extending some compassion towards this person, you can start to see that you might offer part of the solution through your own behaviour. Instead of merely “reacting”, you can respond with empathy and compassion. And build a bridge, rather than tear it down.
Imagine if our mediocre leaders tried this more often. How would it change your relationship to them if they showed a little vulnerability and a little understanding?
Then think about how you could do this too.
Curiouser and curiouser…
I’m under the care of a medical consultant for a condition that causes me discomfort. We’ve worked together for two years to try and find the right treatment. I say “worked together”… What that looks like in reality is me doing research and presenting them with it. I’m not a medical professional. But I am invested in, and therefore, hugely curious, about finding an effective treatment.
They seem to have lost all professional curiousity. Which of course directly affects me.
When you lose curiousity, you lose interest in how you can make things better.
For me, staying curious is one of the biggest strengths we can bring as leaders. A relentless zeal for understanding and improvement. Doesn't that sound like what most organisations need from their leaders?
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve sat in meetings where ideas and suggestions have been shut down with a terse “we’ve tried that before and it didn’t work”, or “we don’t need new ideas, we need solutions.”
What these leaders don’t seem to grasp is that exploration is the path to innovation and to solutions. So if something’s really stuck, why entrench it further? Why not try and wobble it free by wiggling it about a bit?
I think these leaders have lost their sense of professional curiousity. And that’s harmful, as it shuts down the part of our brain that wants to do better than just ok.
Courage, Compassion, Curiousity - what would you add?
In my work with corporate communications leaders, I also add Clarity and Commitment as two other markers I look for in effective leaders. Being clear on your values and committing to “doing the work” are so important.
What would you add to the list and why?
Are there any changes you can make to your leadership practice - right now - as a result of reading this today? Let me know how you get on, I’d love to hear about your progress.
Next time I’m answering the question that plagues so many of us when we are new leaders…
Quick update from me
Thank you so much for being part of the Lead with Intention community - it means such a lot! One way to show your support is to share this newsletter with your own network, by email, Twitter (I can’t say X sorry!) and LinkedIn, so here’s the button to do that if you found today’s edition valuable:
Work with me
I also wanted to share that there are now two ways you can work with me if you’re ready to take your leadership development to the next level (and with 2024 looming, it’s a great time to take stock and make plans)
1. One-to-one live coaching with me - this is for you if you know you can't go another 6 months feeling the way you feel as a manager or new leader. We work together to move you from frustrated to fearless in your leadership approach. (And you can ask work to fund it if you need to…)
2. Enrolling in my upcoming online course "How to communicate like a boss" which is self-paced learning with two live sessions with me. It starts on Nov 16th, costs £299 and is eligible for CPD. Perfect if you need to uplevel your skills when it comes to engaging with stakeholders and leaders.
Have a look at my website and get in touch if you'd like to chat. I offer free strategy calls to help you figure out your next steps.