Leadership Is More Than a Job Description - It's a Mindset
When people get promoted into leadership, it’s usually because they have demonstrated outstanding technical abilities. Unfortunately, technical proficiency is not a reliable indicator for effective leadership. In fact, some alarming large-scale studies on employee engagement and trust in the workplace in the past few years suggest we might need to rethink who we put in leadership and what we actually look for when promoting people into those roles.
Should Leadership be a Profession?
Think about it, lawyers need to pass a bar exam, hair stylists need to get a cosmetology license. Heck, you even need a license to go fishing! Yet every day people are promoted into supervisory, managerial and even enterprise leadership roles without ever having to demonstrate proficiency in people skills!
Simply put, people skills are what is needed to interact with others in a healthy way that builds and fosters trust and mutual respect. The complex aspect of people skills is that they are the external expression of internal beliefs and emotions we carry into the workplace. But what about the leader that has no idea what lurks beneath their surface, yet spills out in their daily interactions with everyone around them. Bill George, a Harvard Business School professor of leadership, and former CEO of Medtronic, claims that, “self-awareness is the starting point of leadership” in his book True North. So why do we have no way to evaluate or measure it when we promote people into leadership?
Enter the Leadership Mindset
The people leaders interact with are much more sensitive to the “vibe” a leader brings to the workplace than we give them credit for. All the words can be said correctly and all the actions done appropriately. Yet, if people sense a vibe that isn’t aligned with the words or actions of the leader, mistrust sets in and the walls of defensiveness go up. If the leader isn’t aware of the attitudes, beliefs, and expectations they project onto others, they run the risk of losing credibility.
A leader’s mindset determines how they interpret and think about people and situations.
Transitioning from being recognized and rewarded as a technical high performer to a leader requires a fairly profound mindset shift. Facing the sometimes chaotic people part of their job can become a whole new proficiency landscape new leaders are often ill-prepared to handle. For many, they return to where they’re comfortable and feel successful – within their technical proficiency. This keeps them in the ‘doer’ mindset and they never grow into the leader’s mindset. The mindset that distinguishes true leadership from a mere job description.
Shifting Into a Leader’s Mindset
It begins with realizing powerful and effective leadership isn’t about technical skills any longer. Instead, it’s about how a leader makes their people feel. Take a minute to think about the best boss you ever worked for. Do you remember them because of their technical skills? Or do you remember them because of how they made you and others on your team feel?
A leader’s mindset grows from the realization that the leader sets the tone and models standards of behavior and attitudes towards the team, the company and the work they do. Like it or not, when you step into leadership you’re in a fishbowl and every move you make, every breath you take, they’ll be watching you.
In our book, Who’s the Boss: Confront the Elephant in the Room, we focus on five universal values leaders can use to navigate difficult people dynamics; respect, responsibility, fairness, compassion and honesty. Shifting into a leader’s mindset means consistent service and tending to these five values. It also means using these values as a decision-making filter and basis for sound judgment in leading others.
John Watson, retired CEO of Chevron, recently reflected on his 37 years with the company and admitted what he’d do differently in his career if he were to start over again. Watson said,
“During my early years in the company, I was fairly analytical in how I approached most situations. And although that served a purpose, I later realized that you can be much more effective if you recognize the importance of people in business.
The sooner you learn about reading people, listening to others and building relationships, the sooner you will be more effective. So I would have spent a little more time on the people side, a little more time on the relationship side, early in my career.”
If you are leading others, let today be the day you commit to being as proficient in your people skills as you’ve been up until now in your technical skills. Dedicate yourself to focusing on how you make people around you feel and how your attitude, beliefs and expectations affect the impact you have on them.
About the authors
The Integreship Group connects seasoned leaders to rising leaders who want to master the people part of their jobs. They provide mentoring, coaching and e-learning to help advancing leaders navigate complex people dynamics at every stage of leadership.
Founded by Karen Alber, former CIO of MillerCoors and H.J. Heinz and Amy Ruppert, who is one of the pioneering leaders who helped start and shape the professional coaching industry, the Integreship Group is dedicated to transforming the leaders of tomorrow into trustworthy influencers guided by values and integrity. You can learn more about them at www.Integreship.com.
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