Developing the leader in you – 101

We all want to be leaders, who will bring about the needed change either in our organisation or in our communities. This is a perfectly legitimate and worthy aspiration. The big question is HOW?

A good way to begin, is by asking “Who is the toughest person to Lead?”. Reflect deeply and you will know the answer. It is your own self! The Bhagavad Gita tells us this and so does Michael Jackson, in the song titled “Man in the Mirror”.

“I’m starting with the man in the mirror

I’m asking him to change his ways

And no message could have been any clearer

If you want to make the world a better place

Take a look at yourself, and then make a change”

In short, Lesson 1 on Developing the Leader in You is, Developing Yourself!

How does one develop oneself into a leader? It is by climbing the Four Steps, on the Stairway to Leadership, shown in the graphic; Grit to Build Oneself, Self Management, Building Empathetic Relationships and Developing Social Skills. Let us now go step by step, understanding what it is and how to climb it.

STEP ONE: Grit & Determination to Build Oneself into a Leader

Who are the tall leaders you admire? Is it APJ Abdul Kalam or Ratan Tata or Anand Mahindra or Nandan Nilekani or Sundar Pichai or Satya Nadella or someone else? How did they become such tall leaders? How did these leaders grow into such tall leaders, when you don’t see any other leader around them who is taller?

An analogy possibly holds the answer. Have you seen these tall cranes at high-rise construction sites? Have you ever wondered how these cranes grew so tall, since there is nothing nearby that is taller? Check out this video You will see for yourself how a Tower Crane grows tall by building itself, one module at a time. Leaders also build themselves similarly; by building themselves, one competency at a time!

The moment you channelise your Leadership Aspirations, into grit and determination to build yourself as a leader, you have climbed step one of the Stairway to Leadership. Of course, support from your Boss, Mentors and, HR Department, are all useful and welcome. The core or the essential remains your grit and your determination.

STEP TWO: Self Management

Now to the task of getting to the next step Self Management

Self Management is a combination of three skills – Self Awareness, Self Motivation & Self Regulation. You acquire these three, and you would be managing yourself. That leads us to the question, how does one learn “Self Awareness, Self Motivation, and Self Regulation”?

Self Awareness is all about knowing your Assets and Liabilities; a realistic assessment of What you can do, What you cannot do, and What you are not sure whether you can do or cannot do, because you have never ever tried it! Once this assessment is in place, you can confidently say, What You Can Do, and then, do it well. You are also clear on What You Can’t Do, and can boldly ask for help!

We all know none of us are perfect. How do we acknowledge this reality, without undermining ourselves? One way of doing that is Self Deprecating Humour. A classic example “I have a good heart but this sharp tongue of mine…”.

Having understood, what Self Awareness is, let us focus on how to develop it. It takes just three initiatives.

  • Accountability to the Man in the Mirror: Every morning and evening stand in front of a mirror, look yourself in the eye, and ask yourself the following questions. What did I do / not do in the last 12 hours? Was I diligent? How was the quality of my work? What could I have done better? And WHY did I do whatever I did? Was it for my personal benefit or for the Team & Organisation’s benefit?

The underlying idea is simple. You are accountable to yourself for your future. If you want to grow your leadership, you have to hold yourself accountable. Man in the Mirror, is one way of doing this. You can do it any other way too. The important thing is you hold yourself accountable!

  • Venture out of Comfort Zone: We all know there are a whole bunch of things in the world, which we don’t know whether we can do well or not, simply because we have never attempted it. Unless we venture out of our comfort zone, how will we ever know, what more we are capable of? To explore new possibilities, you don’t need to venture out miles at a time. A few inches every day, trying things you haven’t done before, is good enough. It is only by such venturing and doing, you will learn how much more you are capable of!
  • Outside-In Thinking: You also need to consciously cultivate the capability of outside-in thinking. All human interactions, be it a conversation or an email or a presentation, there are two perspectives at work; Inside-Out and Outside-In. All you need to do is “become aware” of this dual reality. It is as simple as that.

Let us take an example. Let us say you are presenting to your management committee.  On Inside-Out mode, your thinking is “I am sharing proposals with my bosses”. On “Outside-In” mode, the thinking would be “Eight Senior Managers, have chosen to invest  20 minutes of their time listening to me in the hope, it will help the organisation get ahead. How can I fulfil their expectations?” Think of the difference, the ability to factor in both the Outside-In and Inside-Out perspectives, will make.

Summing up, accountability to the man in the mirror, the habit of venturing out of one’s comfort zone, and developing the outside-in thinking, will together, make you Self Aware.

Self Management is about managing the assets and liabilities you have now become aware of! To do that, you need to do three things; Think before you Act, accept Uncertainty & Ambiguity, and demonstrate Integrity in your words and actions.

Let us say a problem has come to you. Before deciding and taking an action, you need to ask yourself

  • What are my assets/strengths, that I could use to solve this problem?
  • What are my liabilities/weaknesses, that limits me from solving this problem?
  • Who / where can I take help and overcome the limitation and solve the problem?

That is all Think & Act is about.

Next is developing comfort with the terrible twins, Uncertainty & Ambiguity. We are currently living through what is easily the most uncertain and ambiguous period of our lives! Even during the best of times, ours is a world with many shades of grey and very little of Black or White! This is our reality. We need to take Uncertainty and Ambiguity in our stride.

Given this backdrop, how do we respond with integrity, and do the right thing in any given situation? What is right in one situation, may not be right in another! How do we find out what is the right thing to do in a particular situation? The Mahabharata is filled with examples of such dilemmas.

How does one, think and act, take uncertainty and ambiguity in one’s stride and consistently respond with integrity? We do it by cultivating three traits.

  • Mind-full vs Mindful: This no mere play of words. If your mind were to be cluttered with a host of issues including what happened in the past and what may happen in the future, where will you have the bandwidth to absorb information, weigh alternatives, and choose a course that has the best chances of a favourable outcome? Consciously de-clutter your mind, Create mind-space, to absorb all relevant information, weigh alternatives and make choices.
  • Venturing out of Comfort Zone: We discussed this in the context of Self Awareness. Unless you are continuously challenging yourself to attempt new things, how will you keep adding to your repertoire of skills? And without an ever-expanding set of skills, how will you take on the uncertainties and ambiguities that lie ahead?
  • Gratitude: Gratitude is an emotion of thankfulness, for other contributions to our success. Often, when we succeed, we tend to attribute the reasons for the success all to ourselves. Conversely, when we fail, we tend to attribute the reasons for the failure, entirely to others or the environment. Let us take an example from our student years. Take an occasion when we cracked a test! What did we then do? Praise ourselves for preparing well and answering well, justifiably so. That said, preparing well and answering well, is an important part of the story but not the whole story! Maybe the concerned teacher was inspiring. Or maybe the author of the textbook had explained it well. Or maybe something else …

When we experience success, we should also recognise and acknowledge others and other factors that contributed to our success. When we do that, we get our feet on the ground. This is all that Gratitude is about.

Summing up, becoming mindful and not mind-full, regularly venturing out of the comfort zone, and cultivating the spirit of gratitude, is what it takes to manage oneself!

Self Regulation is about the life choices we make. We need to ask ourselves, Am I living life, to Go To someplace, or Am I just living to Get Thru’ Life?

Whatever your current role is, whatever be the nature of your current work task, find Passion in it. Let us take an example.

Think of a mason building a wall with bricks, cement, and mortar. He has a choice of how he approaches the task. He could approach it as a task requiring him to arrange bricks and mortar in a particular way or as an engineer focused on getting the dimensions and plumb perfect or as a home builder visualising the family, who would be making it their home. I leave it to you to visualise, the different levels of passion each of these approaches would evoke in the very mason, and the difference that would make to the final result.

Whatever be your work or task, there is always an opportunity to find passion. When you learn to do that, you begin to ask, “Why can’t I do it do better?” – In short, Raise the Bar. As you are passionately committed to that task, when you face roadblocks, you will find solutions! And that is Commitment and Optimism.

Summing up, finding a sense of purpose in everything you do and setting your performance standards, and doing all this with a realistic sense of gratitude, is all that it takes to achieve, Self Regulation.

Now that we have understood how to cultivate Self Awareness, Self Motivation, and Self Regulation, we are ready to learn to climb the next Step Three, Empathy.

STEP THREE: Building Empathetic Relationships

Reach out whenever you think someone may need help. Everyone needs help from time to time. Ask “Can I help you?”. If they say YES, engage them in a conversation. A conversation, where you ask them simple open questions. A conversation that is about that person, his or her need, and not about you.

And when the other is responding to your questions, listen with your ears, eyes, and heart. Your ears will help you pick up the words and the voice tones. Your eyes will pick up the expressions and body language. Your heart will give you a sense of the feelings they are experiencing, in real-time.

While in an interaction, refrain from judging. Just listen and absorb. Suspending judgment dramatically enhances the quality of listening with your ears, eyes, and heart. The moment you start judging, a little movie trailer begins to run in your head, distracting you. And what is the hurry? Once you have absorbed all the information, you can always judge, when you want to. When you listen well, you will not only understand what the other person is saying but also why!

Now that we have understood how to show Empathy, let us move on to learning to climb the next and final step, Social Skills.

STEP FOUR: Developing Social Skills

You have the GRIT to get ahead. You have also someone who has mastered SELF MANAGEMENT. You know how to “connect” with others EMPATHETICALLY. And you would have begun establishing empathetic relationships. Those you relate with, would, in turn, be establishing similar relationships with others. This is how social networks form.

Once in a network, you experience new people, both through firsthand interactions and by observing two others interacting. And your Social Skills, begin to build up, without any conscious or deliberate effort.

In short, after you climb the first three steps, in a matter of months, your Social Skills begin to develop on their own. And you would have arrived on the first landing of the stairway to leadership. CONGRATULATIONS!

By : Ravi Santhanam for ZEUS

Next :Three Questions for a Great Life and Career

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