Everyone has the potential to become a better leader. No matter what job you have. Whether you work primarily alone or with a large or small team, you should strive to improve your leadership skills. There are different styles and modes of leadership and different employment situations and contexts of course, but the leadership I speak of exists on two basic levels: leadership in your individual work and leadership as part of a group effort.
I am a big fan of quotes because they can say things better than I can sometimes. Here is one I find useful when thinking about the subject, because leadership is about how each person situates themselves and not just how much they know the work or the team, or the company, but how much they know themselves.
“He who knows much about others may be learned, but he who understands himself is more intelligent. He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still.” Tao Te Ching
We are all aware that diversity, equity and inclusion are now essential conversations in the workplace and must be the business of potential leaders. The topics of race, ability, gender, ethnicity, religion, national identity, economic status or sexual orientation for example are important enough but we also need to consider that many people belong to two or more of these “categories” of identity. All of this makes for a cherished and dynamic workplace – if you embrace it.
It is also important to know that there are other ways of understanding difference beyond those previously listed – and these are also essential. The one I found incredibly useful was the notion of High Context & Low Context cultures– popularized by Edward Hall. This kind of social mapping is about how people learn to communicate in certain cultures, which is essential information to have in the professional setting. Some years ago, Business Insider incorporated this idea into a conversation about global business.
The goal is to find your own way of opening up to other people, other ideas, other ways of doing things, and other cultural practices as we become acclimated to global assimilation.
I am always striving to be a better leader, and over the years I have developed my top-ten leadership tips, and here they are:
-Treat everyone with respect and dignity and don’t make assumptions about anyone based on how they look or speak. Some people make the mistake of being nicer to the “higher-ups” and not so much to others and if you are found out – it may cost you a job or an account or something else.
-Make decisions that benefit the whole and will work on all levels. Always think holistically and be aware of “problem solving” that is just problem moving. You want to avoid that at all costs.
-Everyone can make a contribution and take responsibility for the team, group or office. With this in mind, observe, listen, ask questions when needed, and when you are confident that you have something to contribute – chime into the conversation.
-Consider the bicycle chain, a break in only one link renders the chain useless. When on a team, consider that you are only as strong as your weakest link. We always work with a team of people to become successful. When possible, help the weak link.
-Try not to make exceptions. If the rules, or process, or systems are not working – suggest changing them.
-If you make a mistake or forget something- tell the boss first. Don’t let someone else be the bearer of your bad news.
-If you don’t know something, don’t bluff or guess and then try to fix it later. Speak up, help, do the research, ask questions.
-Know the difference between perceptions and facts. Facts are easier to correct but perceptions take a much longer time to change.
-Know your limitations, faults, what pushes your buttons and most importantly your cultural and social assumptions.
-At the start of your job’s calendar year, or if you are away for any period of time from work, come back as if you are going to a new job – things have changed and there is always plenty to learn.
This last quote is related to the reality that working better with people is a vital component of leadership and at the end of the day this old phrase is so true – it’s not what you say, its how you say it.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. “ Maya Angelou