Many people think that maximizing leadership potential is something that needs emphasis early in one’s career. It often comes up when discussing people new to management looking to unlock the promise of future influence. However the reality is that the people with the largest need for coaching and guidance on leadership regularly sit at the higher echelons of organizations, because as we grow in our lives and our careers, we can forget the lessons about people and process that got us there in the first place. That’s why leadership, personal or professional, remains something that needs tending to no matter what life or career stage you sit in.
When Leadership Fails
All leaders have failings. To say otherwise suggests that there are perfect people walking the world, which is hard to take seriously. Why people fail in leadership varies, although an unrealistic ego stands as a top reason, as does over reliance on past results. Some other causes:
- Lack of Communication. Leading requires clarity, not just of purpose but also in message. Just because things are clear in your head, doesn’t mean the message always gets across. Neglecting this basic tenet can have a disastrous impact on your followers, and on your ability to lead effectively.
- Loss of Focus. Losing sight of what’s important – the ever-present risk of “scope creep” – can also render your leadership ineffective. This often manifests itself when leaders, especially in organizations, get fascinated with the perks of leadership and forget what got them there in the first place.
- Loss of Vision. Vision is the energizing component of your leadership signature. When it no longer resonates, you risk losing passion, which translates into how potential followers receive it. If you can’t get excited about transformation, neither can they.
- Aversion to Risk. Great leadership, personal or professional, is driven by a desire to succeed, not a hope not to fail. Playing it safe might feel comfortable, but leadership challenges comfort zones and seeks to move the needle as far as possible. Timidness and the “safe play” does not maximize leadership potential.
- Poor Balance. Leadership can be a lonely, taxing place. If you don’t mind the balance between the Mind, the Body, the Soul, you will tax your own drive and energy, leading to fatigue, stress, and anxiety. These will also sap your effectiveness.
Everyone is vulnerable to these and other factors that erode how well you perform in the eyes of others. How you do that determines the potential of your leadership.
Maximizing Leadership Potential
The key to avoiding these pitfalls lies in the ability to improve self-mastery. Taming your ego as you rise through the leadership ranks is a good start, but understanding why we sometimes yield to it at all is critical to avoiding it. To some degree, ego happens. We all have one, but the degree to which we allow it to overpower our authenticity, courage, and humility defines how we lead.
It’s also important to remember that leadership is a dynamic, not a moment in time. It requires innovation and ingenuity, and cannot simply rely on recycling old ideas or emulating what others do in the same or similar space. Benchmarking these things is fine, and in fact necessary. But following behind someone else’s tactics and strategies is still following. If you want to excel, you need to be the disruptor, not merely follow disruption. There will always be times when simply competing is the best path, but even then you should be spending time considering how to think differently. That is where we find advantage.
Finally, always remember that leadership is never about you. It is always about your followers. If you’re not constantly identifying ways to keep them engaged, committed, and enabling vision with some level of passion, you are breaking a cardinal rule of your role as a leader. You can’t lead if no one is following you, and no one will follow you if they don’t understand or they don’t believe. Don’t take my word for it – ask them, and be prepared for answers you may not want to hear.
Unlocking the Promise
To maintain an edge and to maximize leadership potential, it is important to realize that leadership is an evolving practice. That means doing a constant re-evaluation of what you bring to the table and what it means to those around you. This requires confidence and a strong sense of self-awareness, as well as a willingness to listen to feedback and to act upon it. Some tips for positive change:
- Study leaders who are dynamic and changing their games. What can you learn from them and incorporate into your own practice?
- Ask yourself, “Where am I stagnant (and we all are)? Where can I learn and grow?”
- Challenge your frames and beliefs. Which have grown stale and need to change?
- Challenge your success metrics. Are they still relevant, and do they measure your needs or those around you? There should be a balance at a minimum.
- Take a look at your team or other potential followers. What can you do to increase commitment and engagement?
- Examine your relationships. How can you make them stronger and more sustainable?
- Determine what saps your energy. What do you engage in that tends to increase it?
- Consider a personal coach. An objective, experienced mentor can be effective for anyone.
These are just a few suggestions of where to start, but ultimately it comes down to you and a simple question: if the goal is to be an agent of transformation, what can you do to transform yourself to stay ahead of the curve?
Remember, leadership can be fragile. If you don’t remain curious and courageous, growing to meet challenges that are sure to be evolving you will fall behind. What’s more, if you don’t, someone else is and will.