Where do leaders struggle?

Recently, I was interviewed by Andy Greider with LinkedInsite.com on the topic of “What leaders struggle with“. In the MP3 audio file below, I discuss three main challenges professionals encounter as they strive to become better leaders. Take a listen, and please share your thoughts.

Where do leaders struggle?

Business people playing tug-of-warWhat are the things that trip leaders up? While I’m referring to leaders in different industries, with different experience and at different levels, there are some common themes of where they struggle. And while these leaders are successful in their own right, I see the following three key areas continue to bubble up through my coaching with them.

Strategic Focus – Leaders struggle with when to focus strategically and when to dive in and get in the weeds. It’s a balance between doing versus delegating. We think this happens with just new managers but I see this at all levels and with all leaders. It’s hard to let go and relinquish control of the outcome. Furthermore, some managers feel they are the only person who can perform a particular task or they can do it best, which may in fact be true, but it’s impossible to do it all.

I received a great piece of advice, earlier in my career, from my manager who told me, “You are not being judged on the work you do but how you empower others to get the work done.” This was a turning point for me in my career. Regardless of where you are in your leadership journey, it’s important to empower your employees and get out of the way so the work can get done. Leaders who do this well know how to provide guidance but keep their distance. If you grab the reins and tackle the more difficult tasks you are missing out on coachable moments. Your employees aren’t learning and furthermore they know you will jump in and save the day when they stumble. Instead, hold them accountable, teach them and delegate it instead of doing it!

Communicating Effectively – Communicating at all levels is critical, whether it’s upwards to those more senior in the organization, down to direct reports or across to peers and business partners. In regards to communicating up, it’s about employing the right level of detail. I ran a discussion on LinkedIn about this very topic, an area where a lot of leaders struggle. Check out the discussion HERE to see the comments and best practices on communicating up effectively. It’s important to tailor your message for your audience, especially when communicating upwards. Those at the higher levels in your organization don’t need to know everything you know about a particular topic. Instead what’s more important is being concise in your communication. It’s not about proving how much you know but rather demonstrating your confidence around a topic as you tailor your communication for your specific audience. That speaks volumes!

Then there are times where there is simply not enough communication. I see this a lot when leaders are communicating with their peers and direct reports. A client of mine didn’t communicate effectively with her peers. And as such her peers became distrustful when she asked them for help. She only brought them in when she needed something from them but never communicated back to them on the things that impacted them or would help them do their jobs more effectively. I tell all my clients, over communicate! While you may think you are communicating effectively, you are probably not communicating nearly enough.

And there are times we can forget that not everyone knows what we know. Things move at such a fast pace that often times your direct reports may not know the landscape has changed or that priorities have shifted. A client of mine is part of discussions with senior executives on the changing priorities for the organization but what he fails to realize is his team doesn’t get that same exposure. As a result, they become frustrated when he tells them to change their focus since they don’t understand the context or rationale behind the change. While this may seem like a rookie mistake, I see more leaders tell their employees what to do instead of why they need to do it. They are not effectively cascading their communications down and as a result employees are frustrated or simply not on board. A quick fix is to error on over communicating. Focus your communications on the why behind changes and you will see employees get on board quicker and with less resistance. You can always ask for feedback and pare your communication back if it becomes too much, although I rarely see this as being the case. Whether it’s with direct reports or your peer’s communication is critical to successful leadership.

Courageousness or “Edge” – Edge is all about wanting to win at all costs. In the right dose it’s a redeeming quality you want all your leaders to possess. But without the right balance, it can lead to less effective leadership. I conducted a 360 assessment, to gain developmental feedback, on someone I was coaching with too much edge and learned he can divide people. On the one hand are people who like his demanding style and feel like he pushes them to perform at their best. On the other hand are those that feel like he’s got a personal agenda and runs over them with his edgy style. In this instance it’s about having patience to meet people where they are and pave the way so they can go on the journey with you instead of pulling them, kicking and screaming. It’s imperative to adjust your style based on the person or the situation and look for ways to be more collaborative, especially with peers. Ask more questions and gain agreement on next steps instead of jumping in and forcing the next step. There is an element of situational awareness at work here; having an understanding of the impact you have on others and whether it’s positive and productive or if it’s something less effective.

On the flip side are leaders that can simply be too nice and don’t push back when needed, they need more edge. Many of my clients pride themselves on being responsive and as a result struggle with saying “no”, they don’t want to disappoint or even worse hurt someone’s feelings by being too blunt. So they shy away from making tough or unpopular decisions that may give the impression they are anything but helpful and friendly. In these instances we want leaders to be more courageous and demonstrate more edge by handling difficult situations and conflict with confidence. Nobody likes conflict but it’s part of the job. I coach my clients to look at this situationally. This isn’t about changing who you are but rather identifying situations and people where you can be more courageous and add value by demonstrating more edge.

Leadership involves a whole host of traits to be successful in a dynamic and complex world. And while this isn’t an exhaustive list, your ability to be more effective in these areas will help you continue to grow your leadership. How do you rate yourself in these three critical areas and where do you struggle?

Sage Alliance, a Leadership Performance Company, provides coaching, teambuilding and assessments, workshops and speaking on topics including; leadership development, empowering teams, communications, lasting impressions, personal branding and building a coaching culture for executives and high-potentials – for both team and individual leaders.

Contact us today to discover how your organization can get the most through improved productivity, efficiency and direct impact to your bottom line, while leaders gain powerful insight, crystallize opportunities for growth and fine tune their strengths, enabling them to make the greatest impact. You can contact Shelley Hammell directly at shammell@thesagealliance.com.

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  1. Rhoda Gelman says:

    This is definitively a passionate topic for me, for it has a special synergy with the urgency of how leaders do affect the individuals who look at them as leaders! Empowering Others by Inviting The Art of Communications and Strategic Differences.

    Although ‘Focusing and Edge’ do play a significant role with leadership qualities, the most important element is Passion and Personal Sincerity.’ We are losing the genuine personal approach and to ‘take the time to “ask” how individuals, including staff how they ‘feel and what are their opinions and views.’ We are ‘Not’ the same. We are all individuals and in fact possess our own brilliance and core. One Different and Possibly Evolutionary Ideas would be: Creating a Round Table for Staff and Other Individuals, with a Focus On Creative Input: ideas, Concepts, Methods and Techniques. In fact, push the button and ‘Create a Story-Telling.’ Now Here is A Project Worth The Time! Rhoda Gelman

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