Three Steps for Improving Your Leadership

One of my early bosses was quite the character. He and I disagreed more often than not, and we'd bicker like school kids. I found him uninspiring, condescending, and frequently irrational.  After work I'd unload my grievances on my co-workers,  roommates, and family. I'd whine about his insults and barely contained my frustration in the office.


(You don't ever complain, do you?)

Looking back, I shudder to think what he really thought of me (an irritating, pushy, precocious 21-year-old might be a generous start!).

One particularly difficult day I called my mom and told her I was going to quit because this guy was "intolerable." (Sheesh! My DRAMA!) Mom's response came in the form of  questions:

"Do you like the company?" and, "Are you challenged by learning new things?"

"Yes." And, "Yes." I said.

I wasn't sure where she was heading.

"Well then you should figure out how to get along with your boss (and everyone else) because you will ALWAYS work with challenging people. Get over it. The quicker you figure out how to work with anyone, the better off you'll be."

Maybe Mom didn't say "get over it," but that's what she meant.


Truth hits me in my naive, idealistic, 21-year-old face.

When the stinging stopped, logic flowed: I work with people.  People are messy. Ergo, work will be messy.

If I wanted to make work, work, I would need to manage my expectations around ideas such as efficiency, getting my way, and "tidiness."  I needed to adjust my lens around work tasks and think more about people.

Work is never first about a task, it is about relationships and their accompanying challenges.

Does that sound extreme? Consider this -

Have you ever worked with a brilliant person who can't lead a team to the lunch room? Have you ever met someone who has all of the intellectual capacity for the job, yet you watch her fail? Have you seen the rugged individual crash and burn because he hadn't brought the team along? Or the egomaniac abandoned because he had no support system?

I think about the teams I've led, and I wish, particularly with the early groups,  I had had better skills.  I barely missed countless pitfalls.  But I also see how those individuals did as much shaping (and cleaning up MY messes) of me as I ever did of them.  We worked through our messes together.

You'll need to do the same.

In fact, our ability to succeed at the office will always be capped by our leadership skills, and those skills don't develop by accident.  They develop through effort.

So where do you start?  Glad you asked!

1. Create a personal development plan.

As John Wooden said, " Don't mistake activity with achievement."  Just because you're "busy" being a boss doesn't mean you're growing and improving your skills.  Create a plan and work it!  I like Michael Hyatt's life plan (here), but even a small skeleton of a plan is better than no plan!

2. Systematically ask for feedback.

Everyone has blind spots, and the bigger your title, the larger your blind spot.  Find ways to incorporate feedback into your team and your culture.  More ideas here and here.

3. Invest time in learning about leadership

The famous choreographer, Twila Thorp, says, “I read for growth, firmly believing that what you are today and what you will be in five years depends on two things: the people you meet and the books you read." This principle ABSOLUTELY applies to our leadership skills.

Read great leadership books to broaden your knowledge base. (Jim Collins, Patrick Lencioni both are good places to start.)  Listen to great leaders either in person, via a mentor, or through online resources. My favorite regular investment in honing my skills is by listening to Andy Stanley's Leadership podcast on iTunes (here).

Every job boils down to working with people.  Make sure you're ready!