What leader hasn’t found him or herself looking back on their performance and realizing that they could have or should have done better at some aspect of leading. I know that I can look back on some of my most difficult days as a leader and recognize that had I practiced a few practical leadership behaviors, I would have been in a better position to positively influence the situation. Due to these insights, I developed a series of leadership vows, structured as vowels, to provide a daily guide for basic leadership skills. Using these will persistently provide the correct structure and practices for leading. I am convinced that putting these vows into practice will create an environment of high trust, where people flourish and production soars. Anyone can create this positive climate by leading using this simple, easy to remember formula that can be adapted to any work space.
My first leadership vow is to be authentic. Authentic leaders show up at work as real people. Leaders must remind themselves to take risk and be vulnerable. Authenticity helps create a safe environment where co-workers can be their authentic selves as well. This includes being transparent about the agenda, intent and fears. Such disclosure encourages honesty from employees and provides a foundation for growing trust. By cultivating this value, co-workers know they can bring their whole-self to the work environment. In a safe environment, creativity flourishes because risk is encouraged. You can be confident that your products, outputs and customers benefits from this type of safe environment, as well as all employees. People have no trouble spotting and accepting authentic leaders, just as they quickly spot and avoid phonies.
- End in Mind
My second leadership vow is to always lead with an end-state in mind. Mindful leaders themselves to be deliberate and specific in understanding and focusing on the intended end-state. This focus helps to ensure that decisions and behaviors are aligned with clear goals and are justifiable to even the most critical eye. Transparency in establishing goals, objectives and behaviors ensures a shared understanding of the desired end-state. This shared understanding creates opportunity for co-workers to develop supporting actions and be flexible in adapting their roles. Team members appreciate knowing the end-state and quickly adapt to changes which clearly trace to the common goal. A shared end-state encourages co-workers to take actions without specific direction, freeing their creativity to drive to better results.
My third leadership vow is to commit time and effort developing interpersonal skills and relationships. Leaders frequently spend their days focusing on products, missions, bottom-lines and the like, neglecting human connection with co-workers. Time spent getting to know our co-workers as people fosters the development a rapport that includes and enables the growth of trust. Leaders who cultivate strong interpersonal relationships create a climate for more effective feedback and increase the likelihood that the feedback will be heard and integrated. Furthermore, building strong interpersonal relationships ensures that minor squabbles and mis-communications remain minor and that the relationship will survive the day-to-day bumps. Setting this example encourages others to follow suit, improving the communication climate and workplace culture at the same time.
My fourth leadership vow is that I will strive to remain objective. Every leader must recognize that they are fraught with their own personal biases, preferences and values. These personality features make us more likely to react, either positively or negatively, without conscious thought. In being objective, one remains aware of these unconscious influences and is actively on guard to minimize their impact. Leaders want to treat all employees fairly, even though it is likely that we don’t treat them all the same. There are many variables in the workplace that directly impact how a leader can or must react in a given set of circumstances. The key is to manage our biases such that they are not overly involved in our decision-making. So long as a leader is objective, one can be reasonably sure to treat my employees in a way that is consistent, fair and even-handed.
My final leadership vow is that I will persistently seek to understand. As all leaders are fallible human beings, we are liable to react poorly and without sufficient information when faced with difficult or negative situations. Uninformed reactions often result in jumping to conclusions, ascribing malignant intent, telling stories or imputing negative attributes to other employees. Conversely, an empathic leader will use questions and curiosity to test assumptions, reach factual conclusions and deepen understanding. The practice of seeking to understand extends to all workplace partners, colleagues and in all interactions. Given that there are few ‘black and white’ problems, it’s easy to see how an investment in understanding will pay dividends long after the provoking event has been forgotten. Developing this skill ensures that one rarely reaches a conclusion or makes a decision without having investigated all the available facts.
Leadership Vowels in Action:
Start your day thinking about these simple leadership vows with vowels, as outlined above. Reach for these vowels anytime you feel stressed, confused or doubting of your leadership path. Employ them to provide the foundational leadership skills necessary to cultivate a climate of trust and high-performance. Authenticity, end-state, interpersonal, objectivity and understanding are attributes that won’t lead you astray. This is ‘why’ leading with vowels is your path to stronger and more effective leadership.