Where are you leading “from”?

Leaders spend a significant amount of their time thinking about, talking about and planning where they are leading “to”. This includes strategic planning activities, scenario planning, leadership team offsites and stakeholder communication. But they tend to frequently overlook and underinvest in the space “from which” where are they leading. Engaging in personal inquiry and developing the self-awareness are essential parts of leadership effectiveness.

Conscious Leaders cannot avoid difficult situations. In fact, no one can. The question is how we respond to the things that happen. The ability to respond appropriately is a function of having invested the time in personal inquiry, self-awareness and knowing where you’re leading “from”.

We’ve all seen caregivers who “give in” to a child (regardless of age) because it’s the path of least resistance. From using an iPad to avoid a tantrum, to paying your daughter’s rent because she quit another job. This may solve a small, short-term problem, while creating a much larger, lifelong issue of co-dependency and despair.

It can also derail effectiveness when people are only working to avoid the negative aspects of your power as a leader.

Just as the child will learn how to manipulate the parents, so will employees learn how to do less and be less, because they are modeling rewarded behavior. The children may tell white lies to avoid disappointing their parents or being punished. The employee may “enhance” data results to avoid criticism or being passed over.

I know of a well-known company in the personal growth industry that hired a new VP of Sales because he had experience with illustrious companies such as Disney. He came in with strong expected outcomes and promised to take the company’s digital sales market to new heights. What he failed to do was consider how the digital market might cannibalize the live events and the coaching arm of the business. To cover his misstep, he was creative with his reports and when his actions were discovered, he was “walked out.” Starting over with a new head of sales was time consuming and costly, but it had to be done. As news traveled throughout the organization, it was very clear that lack of integrity would not be tolerated, regardless of the position on the organizational chart.

As a leader, you have to be equipped for calling people out when they are exhibiting inappropriate behavior, whether they are high performers or not. We see it often where somebody gets a pass for their boorish behavior because they are a high producer and seemingly invaluable to the organization. No organization can afford to keep individuals around who exhibit behaviors inconsistent with organization culture; no matter the short-term costs. The impact on moral, employee engagement, organization culture, lost productivity is not worth the price.

Leaders who know where they’re leading “from” don’t experience conflict with where they’re leading “to”.

Conscious action: If you find an employee “misbehaving,” request a one-on-one conversation. Ask the following three questions:

1. How do I show up for you? (They may not be honest, but offering an opportunity for open dialogue sets the stage for the conversation. Repeat back what you heard the employee say.)
2. How do you think you show up for me? (This provides a chance for the employee to reflect on your perspective. They may stumble here too, but it will reveal that there is more than one perspective in the room.)
3. Here is what I see. (Now you synthesize what the person has said with what you think). How do you think we can resolve this issue if it arises in the future? (Providing the employee with their input empowers that person to come to a new solution.)

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