You Go First

As a leader, you should never let a focus and commitment to improve yourself get old or become forgotten. In fact, little will improve measurably or sustainably in your organization until you do. While leaders who complain about their boss, team, culture and more abound, those who admit that, “I’m the problem,” “I need to improve,” or “I need to be more prepared” are sadly rare.

A key to building a better culture, growing people better, and bettering your organization is for you as a leader to get better first. Without question, organizational excellence begins with the personal growth, sacrifice, and integrity of the leaders. And while the potential strategies for building a better you cover a wide range of topics I could relate in this space, I’ll present four key areas that, once you work to improve them personally, will dramatically and positively impact culture, people, and results. If you’re struggling with these keep in mind that this perspective isn’t about beating yourself up but picking yourself up and seizing these opportunities to improve.

1. Control your emotions. It’s embarrassing to see and hear people who’ve been entrusted with leadership positions spend their days reacting, stressed out, and losing it with people because they lack emotional control. Lack of emotional control disconnects you from followers, distracts people, lowers their morale, and breaks momentum. It also isolates you as people are afraid to tell you what’s really going on because they know you’ll handle it poorly. Certainly, there are instances when showing more emotion, rather than pretending all is well when it’s not, can be helpful. However, demonstrating the wisdom to know when to delay, suspend, or display variances in their emotion is a skill many leaders don’t bother to work on.

One tip for controlling your emotions is to practice the discipline to stop doing what comes naturally and behave more intentionally. “Intentionally” means on purpose, and by consciously working to increase the time between a provocation and your response—if even by a few seconds—you can elevate the quality and maturity of your verbal and email responses, tone on voicemails, and more. By paying more attention to timing, what you say, and how you say it (tone), you’ll go a long way in demonstrating emotional control that makes you more approachable, engaging, mature, trustworthy and in control.

2. Control your language. Words matter – a lot; and, coming from a leader their impact is multiplied exponentially. Profanity, insults, sarcasm, gossip, complaining, badmouthing co-workers, other departments, or the competition, and more are – just as lack of emotional control is – a distraction. It also makes you look ignorant, weak, classless, immature, and bereft of common respect, intelligence, and courtesies. If you can’t control your language in areas I’ve mentioned and others like them, you have no business preaching to your people to be more productive. Everything on the list of examples in this point is incredibly unproductive and your engaging in them is leading by example – a terrible one! And if realizing the impact your words have on others, not to mention your own focus and attitude, and resolving to clean it up is too much to ask, then you should get out of leadership and go find something you can do with integrity.

3. Swallow your pride. My guess is that some readers won’t address the first two issues I’ve listed to improve thus far, because they’re incapable of executing this third opportunity for leadership growth: swallowing one’s own pride. Frankly, pride comes naturally to us flawed human beings, which is why an intentional effort to cultivate humility is necessary as a lifelong journey. Often, management failures which are misattributed to other causes have pride at the core. For example, consider how the following four leadership actions all have pride as their root cause:

A. You don’t build a solid and growing team.

Because of your pride/ego/arrogance, you don’t see the need for a team as long as you’re there! You don’t delegate or let anyone else make decisions. You are reluctant to give up any type of power as you feel it will diminish your importance.

B. You don’t listen to others.

Arrogance causes us to overvalue ourselves and devalue others. It manifests in instances like rarely implementing anyone else’s ideas and treating any disagreement with you like mutiny, without even considering the validity of points raised. Failing to listen also causes you to routinely cut people off and finish their sentences for them. In addition, your pride causes you to barely tolerate feedback on your performance and most probably to resent it.

C. You are a know-it-all.

Similar to not listening to others, but egregious enough to have earned its own category, having a “been there and done that” attitude where you believe that you pretty much have it all figured out is pride of Biblical proportions. If this is you, you probably don’t read books in your field, attend seminars or peer group meetings, and treat training like it is punishment.

D. You fail to give away credit or to deflect praise for your performance to your team.

You may rarely ever tell anyone else they do a good job, and are far more prone to let them know how much better they could have done so their success doesn’t “go to their head.” At the same time, you never feel like your own efforts are appropriately appreciated. Thus, when things go well you hog the credit because you’re more committed to building your image than to building your team.

4. Shift your focus from success to significance. The primary difference between success and significance is two feet. Here’s what I mean: Being successful is all about you (what you get, how far you go, and the like). To become significant, you must positively impact someone else. Thus, the two feet I refer to are a left and right foot that belong to someone else….someone whom you bring across the finish line with you by empowering, mentoring, stretching, and impacting in a way that changes the course of their career and life. Incidentally, failing to improve the three previous opportunities listed, makes it not only tougher, but highly unlikely, you’ll be able to positively impact others in a manner that will help you become significant as their leader.

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Dave Anderson
Dave Anderson, “Mr. Accountability,” is a leading international speaker on personal and corporate performance improvement. The author of 14 books and host of the wildly popular podcast, The Game Changer Life, Dave’s message has impacted leaders in nearly 70 nations. His “in-the-trenches” background of starting and running world-class businesses, coupled with his relatable non-academic approach, creates an unmatched connection that resonates with audiences and moves them to action. Follow Dave on Twitter @DaveAnderson100