Looking Under the Hood for Leadership

by Brad Lantz, Inner Circle Twin Cities

When we think of leadership, we often focus on the what: external characteristics, practices, behavior, and actions that exemplary leaders demonstrate as they take on complex and unprecedented challenges. However, we won’t reach our potential as leaders by looking only at what is visible. We need to see what’s underneath the hood to understand how remarkable leaders lead—and that begins with our perceptions.

As important as discovering what our precepts are, we often skip ahead to actions. We try to adopt a behavior and expect it to stick through sheer force of will. Sadly, it won’t if we haven’t changed the underlying attitudes and beliefs that drove the old behavior in the first place. Making matters worse, our behavior affects other people’s mind-sets, which in turn affects their behavior. A leader’s failure to recognize and shift their perceptions can stall the change efforts of an entire organization. Any effort to become better leaders should start with examining ourselves, by recognizing the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that has driven our behaviors.1

How can we create new behaviors that improve our ability to lead at your best?

1. Find your strengths

A surprising amount of our time and energy at work is focused on our shortcomings—the gap between 100 percent and what we achieved. For many executives, this pervasive focus on weaknesses fosters a mind-set of scarcity: a feeling that there are too few talented people in the organization to help it move the rocks that need moving. But what if you could move rocks by starting with strengths, leveraging people’s strong desire for meaning?

The magic comes when we learn to integrate strengths into our daily work—a real challenge, since many executives believe that strengths are the words that come before the inevitable “but” in their performance reviews. Many use the “sandwich” effect of strengths as the bun – with weaknesses as the meat in between.

Some executives will use the greater self-awareness the exercise brings to catalyze a career change—drawing on feelings that may have been percolating. The vast majority find that the simple act of peering through the lens of strengths is a doorway to enhance their power, generating positive emotions and energy.

To be sure, everyone has weaknesses to improve. But deliberately shifting to a focus on strengths is a far more inspiring approach; you’ll raise the odds of lighting up everyone around you and unleashing enormous energy for creativity and change. Want more –  StrengthFinders 2.0 Gallup

2. Practice the pause

We all face challenges at work: impossible deadlines, missed budgets, angry customers, sharp-elbowed colleagues, and unreasonable bosses (sometimes they are us). These behaviors generally create a “fight, flight, or freeze” reaction with most people.  What if you could pause, reflect, and then manage—creatively and effectively—what you’re experiencing?

Surprisingly, if we don’t consider this, we most often create the outcome we fear. Worried about losing control? When you snapped at your team, you just lost it. Worried about not being heard? When you argued defensively, people turned away and you accomplished it. Notice when your attention is focused on needs that you want to protect, and redirect instead toward the experience we want to create, we open up access to a greater range of behavior.

By figuring out how to pause and reengage our “thinking” brains (the parts governing executive functions, such as reasoning and problem solving), we can make the shift from a mind-set of threat avoidance (a fear of losing) to one of learning and of getting the most out of the moment. Want more - The Pause Principal - Cashman

3. Forge trust

Leaders need a community of supporters to achieve audacious goals, for communities are built through shared objectives and mutual trust. Yet not everyone views trust in the same way, so as leaders we must learn what others value if we want to inspire trust. At a minimum, the effort leads to greater understanding.

In fact, simply recognizing and embracing the differences in how people perceive trust can strengthen it. Once we are aware of our own—or others’—profiles, we tend to adjust our behavior subconsciously. When we do so deliberately as well, the results are quite powerful. After all, it’s our behavior that instills trust in others, not our intentions.

When you shift your perceptions from “trustworthy people are a scarce resource” to “I can inspire almost everyone to trust me more,” your community of supporters will expand effortlessly. Want more – Speed of Trust - Covey

4. Choose your questions wisely

What propels leaders to carry out unprecedented, audacious visions? Fear? Foolishness? Ambition? A sense of duty?

Hope. Leaders we admire tend to use fear as fuel for action, but they favor hope. Fear is of value because it gets our adrenaline flowing, sharpens us, and makes extraordinary contributions possible. But it’s easy to succumb to fear and feel overwhelmed by downside risks. Fear spreads through an organization like a contagion. Without the counterbalance of hope, fear paralyzes. So how can we find the right mix of both? Start with the questions we ask.

We tend to use problem-focused questions more, they work well for technical, linear issues that have “right” answers. As we move up the ranks as leaders and the challenges become more complex, our problem-solving instincts can lead us astray. By contrast, when we develop solution-focused instincts, we empower and engage others, deliberately infusing hope. Remember that employees with problems already feel fear. Problem-focused questions only fuel it. Want more – Just Ask Questions - Cohen

5. Make time to recover

Who wouldn’t want to work in high-performance mode nonstop? A desire for achievement and competitive success urges us on—often past our physical and mental limits. Professional athletes build in time to recover, but executives rarely do. Why not? The limiting beliefs are well accepted: commitment is noticed through hard work and suffering; only slackers take time off during the day. People tell the story of a hospitalized colleague with awe: “He worked so hard he collapsed, in service of the company.” Hero? Not really. If that young executive had the self-awareness to shift his perceptions from managing time to managing and balancing energy, he might have remained in good health.

The solution is simple: find ten minutes twice each day (morning and afternoon) [some reports say every 90 minutes stand up and move] to recover, stepping back into a zone of low but positive energy to recharge. Consider all four sources: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual activities can each fuel you. Schedule recovery activities, and stick to them until this is your new normal.

To make change stick, unwire and rewire from the inside. Start with self-awareness: seeing yourself as a viewer of your own “movie.” Once you see the pattern, you have a choice whether to change. Owning the choice creates enormous freedom. And as you exercise that freedom to change your mind-set and practice new behavior, you role-model a transformation—creating what does not exist today but should. And isn’t that what leaders do? Want to know more – Primal Leadership – Goleman

So are you, have you, been pursuing behavior modification or are you truly looking under the hood and going deep to find out the source. It can be the most difficult time of your life but the results are worth it. The discovery of your true self can be truly amazing.