Developing Your Leadership Skills

This week on the podcast Ed and I were joined by Nikki Cross who is in the process of starting a new business in the middle of the pandemic. Her background and skill base is in learning and development and her passion is in getting leaders to self develop and improve who they are and how they function to the benefit of themselves, their teams and their business.

The work that Nikki’s is developing is important for the development of any society but at this moment it is vital to ensure that we survive and rebuild after Covid-19 becomes something that was rather than is. As we come out of lockdown it is the power of our leaders that will pull us through and recreate the world. It will probably not be as it was but hopefully it will have it’s own magic and we move forward to whatever awaits us.

I have invited Nikki to contribute to this blog, see below. But before that I just want to say this, we are all leaders. Leadership is not a title, a job or a position it is a set of skills, values and insights. Throughout life we may be faced with leadership roles from leading a project in the classroom to being a gleam captain. With friendship groups there are leaders and followers. As parents, as a mother or father, we offer and show leadership. As adults in the workplace at different levels from shift leader to managing director we are leaders.

Good leaders, at any level, lead by example. This is not ‘do what I say and not what I do’. The quality of any group from family to corporation is a direct reflection of the leader. All groups develop from the top down. When you meet nice kids you know that they have had a good role model. When you meet nice employees you know that the quality of their leadership is good.  So over to Nikki…

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to come on and chat through this topic with you guys today!  I was honestly disappointed when it ended (could’ve chatted all day!)

I couldn’t agree with your summary more – and with my ‘people development’ hat on the next natural step would be to explore: If I wanted to improve my leadership skills, what should I work on and what are the easiest ways to develop? If that resonates with you, I’ve identified five key skills and some tips for development …

  1. Commitment to growth.  It can be temping to rest on your laurels when you get the ‘leader’ stamp.  Don’t be deceived though – this isn’t because ‘leaders are lazy’ … this is usually because of a wrong and very dangerous assumption: “I’m the leader now, I have been given this title so I cant show that I don’t know what I’m doing” … this leaves the leader feeling like an imposter in their own role.  Truth is – the skill set that got them from a great nurse / bus driver / recruiter is NOT the same skill set that will make them a great leader!

EASY WAYS TO DEVELOP THIS SKILL:

  • Start journaling – each day take 5 minutes to become aware of your priorities, your internal voice, your challenges and your thoughts.  Once they’re out on paper, it’s usually much easier to see things objectively.
  • The internet is your friend– there isn’t much available these days by way of obtaining knowledge.  The trick is IMPLEMENTATION … it’s all very well watching the YouTube video … but what will you ACTUALLY DO?   
  • Read 5 pages before bed – pick a book (so many great ones out there on leadership) and just commit to 5 pages before bed. That’s it! Most leaders will say to me “I haven’t got time to read” but openly admit that 5 minutes before bed is completely do-able (FYI … 5 pages a day = 1,825 pages a year = approx.. four books a year!)
  • Hire a coach …plug…Seriously, get help! Look for a coach who takes time to ensure the right fit, understands ‘what good looks like’ for what it is you want to achieve, asks the right questions and helps hold you accountable
  1. Authenticity.  The ONLY way to establish influence is to develop trust.  The only way to develop trust is to be authentic.  Leaders who are able to seek clarity, provide direction and inspire people to do things they didn’t think were able to create agile, committed teams.

EASY WAYS TO DEVELOP THIS SKILL:

  • Understand that it’s not your job to have all of the answers… it IS your responsibility to find them out. 
  • Communicate with intent, and always state your intent right at the start of your interactions. It sounds like this “I want to talk to you today about your goals for the next month and how you performed last month.  To be clear, I’m having this discussion with you because I want you on my team, we are interdependent which means the more we rely on each other to deliver what we said we would, the more we collectively succeed …”
  • Share your own development journey.  The leaders I have been the most inspired by, didn’t just want to talk about my development as an employee – they wanted to share their own with me too.  Knowing that they were comfortable to demonstrate that vulnerability to me made it a safe environment for me to have straight conversations with them.
  1. Integrity (notice how this word contains the word GRIT) Integrity is possibly the word thrown around the most when we are talking ‘leadership’ or ‘company values’ … but it is so important. 

Integrity is when there is congruence between your moral convictions and your actions.  Or put simply ‘doing the right thing, regardless of who is watching’. 

It takes true courage and GRIT to behave with integrity, especially because when you are in a leadership position, the level of decision making, autonomy and responsibility usually increases dramatically … but the amount of checks to ensure you’re making the right decisions in the right way, with the right intent decreases dramatically. 

EASY WAYS TO DEVELOP THIS SKILL:

  • Think of your future self – recognise that there is always an easier option, but will your future self thank you for cutting corners today?
  • Set your standards high when it comes to doing the right thing.  When decision making ask yourself: Am I doing the right thing by the person, the team, the customer and the business?
  • Tell someone else – if you know there is a risk of you not doing the right thing, get someone to hold you accountable!
  1. Communication – if I said to you “this is going to be really hard, not sure how we are going to deal with this”… notice how it is different to “we have got a challenge on our hands team. I need our brains on this to help me figure out the best next steps” … one invokes fear, the other invokes inspiration. 

Great leaders are SELF AWARE not only about how they approach challenges, but also about how they communicate with their teams.  I’ve found that the most influential leaders will choose their thoughts and actions carefully. 

EASY WAYS TO DEVELOP THIS SKILL:

  • Switch up your perspective & language – simple switches like instead of the word ‘issue’ try the word ‘challenge’ … it can be tricky to do in the moment, so start this skill by checking over your mail language first
  • Get curious – Start sentences with ‘what if we tried…’ and use curious language in your thinking and in your conversations
  • Stop dictating – yes, you’ve got to practice patience here.  Yes it might be quicker for you to just ‘tell’ … but do you want to hand hold forever? OR do you want to create a team who feel empowered to do the right thing?
  1. Goal setting & accountability – great leaders will establish the strategic direction, then set the goals by chunking down the actions required to achieve the goal.   They are able to find the right mountain they need their team to climb, and are able to set mutually agreed actions with each team member to establish their contribution to conquering said mountain. 

Providing the goals are specific, measurable and timebound, there will be no problem assessing progress (providing opportunity for accountability!)

Lastly, the leader will be showing up, and making their own contribution clear. The team will know exactly how the leader contributes to the journey and will feel empowered by their contribution.

…Get the above right and you’ll find team gatherings where everyone can hold each other accountable for their contribution.

EASY WAYS TO DEVELOP THIS SKILL:

  • Always link people’s goals into the bigger picture – it’s inspiring to know that the work you’re doing is contributing to something bigger than your work … it also adds an appropriate amount of responsibility when you know the bigger picture cant be achieved without your contribution!
  • Invest time in expectation setting – specific, measurable and timebound.  Set expectations clearly and make sure you all agree to how often progress will be reviewed.
  • Lead by example – don’t hide away from sharing your own goals.  Get them right out there for everyone to see.  Not only will this create trust, but it will also create context for your team by not only giving them an insight into why they are so important to you, but also helping them to understand the priorities and challenges that must be overcome.

A big thank you to Nikki for coming on the show and taking the time to contribute to this blog as well.

We are all leaders in one way or another and all that is said in this blog and what we discussed on the podcast applies to all of us. Just remember that people learn from observation. A good question is ‘how do people see you?’

Take care, stay safe and be a good leader

Sean x