Many people can manage but not all have the skills required to truly inspire their teams, says Louise Rodgers

Louise Rodgers crop 2

I had several coaching conversations last week which led me to ponder the meaning of the words “leadership” and “management”, and the difference between the two.

According to Harvard Business Review, “management consists of controlling a group or a set of entities to accomplish a goal. Leadership refers to an individual’s ability to influence, motivate and enable others to contribute towards organisational success.”

By this definition many of the people I work with are managers rather than leaders. They are often new managers, promoted because of their technical rather than their people skills.

This means that they may need to work on getting better at some of the key functions of management such as planning, decision-making, delegating and prioritising, before they can engage with the more complex demands of leadership.

Listening, motivating and inspiring are just a few of the leadership skills often described as “core”, alongside strategic thinking, flexibility, creativity … and I could go on (and on). No wonder the thought of it exhausts every time-challenged busy manager, particularly if beset by the constant demands of having to achieve against a particular set of outputs.

Most of us are far too busy to get to know ourselves. And doing so can be an uncomfortable and challenging process

It is difficult to find the time or headspace to listen, motivate and inspire when you fundamentally feel, or perhaps really are, still a “do-er”, bogged down with detail and deadlines.

And that is why, if I had to pick one leadership skill that encompasses all the others and is most likely to lead to leadership success, I would make the case for self-awareness. It sounds such a simple thing, but the reality is that most of us are far too busy to get to know ourselves. And doing so can be an uncomfortable and challenging process.

There is always the fear that we might not like what we find out, so we put it off. But successful leadership is grounded in self-awareness. Without it, we don’t get a full understanding of what motivates us, what our strengths and weaknesses are, what the impact of our behaviours might be on other people. In other words, we don’t  “grow”.

Developing self-awareness can be facilitated by a good coach. But it is also something that you can work on by yourself. Here are four tips to increase self-awareness and ease the transition from manager to leader:

Know your values

Values guide our thoughts, words and actions. We all have them, whether we know what they are or not, and they influence every one of the tiny decisions we make every day.

We can feel extremely uncomfortable and unhappy if we are consistently not able to act according to our values. And, when someone acts towards or around us in a way that makes us feel uncomfortable, it is likely that one of our values is being crossed.

Values will influence how someone “shows up” as a leader, or just as a human being, so it makes sense that each of us takes the time to identify what they are. It is also a step towards getting to know ourselves better.

Seek feedback

We all know that good communication is the cornerstone of effective leadership. Giving feedback regularly, in addition to being open to receiving feedback about your performance, may sound scary, but if you want to take your own style of leadership to another level, how effective you are as a leader and your team’s perception of this should be part of a continuous discussion.

This does not have to be done as part of a complicated 360-degree appraisal process, it can be as simple as asking, “what do you need me to do more/less of?” or “how can I best support you on this project?”

Critical to good leadership is being prepared to step outside of one’s comfort zone

Stay curious

Good leaders consciously try to break out of established ways of thinking, or doing, to find innovative ideas and practices. Critical to good leadership is being prepared to step outside of one’s comfort zone; consider things from different perspectives and be prepared to acknowledge that just because something has always been done that way, it does not mean that there isn’t a better way.

This seems especially important when managing across the generations. If you always think your idea is the best idea in the room, there is no room for other people’s.

Practise reflection

At the beginning of any new coaching programme, my co-coach and I give participants a Step Up branded notebook and encourage people to use it to note down their learning and observations. This can include thoughts on any book we recommend, or any podcast they listen to, but we also want them to use it to record their reflections on what they may be doing, or thinking about, differently, as they learn more about themselves as leaders.

In workshops, we use the “What, So What, Now What?” method of reflective thinking, as a prompt. What happened? What does this mean/what is the insight behind it? What are you going to do now? What will be different?

Like mindfulness, self-awareness is a practice. Self-aware leaders are more trusted and give a clearer sense of direction and purpose to their teams, raising their levels of performance. Put simply, self-aware leaders are better leaders.