What sort of leader do they expect me to be? (Part 2 of 2)
Being a successful leader requires you to be a visionary, seize opportunities, rally and motivate employees, navigate pitfalls, and so much more. You are expected to do so much, and herein lies one of the biggest problems for leaders today: How are you possibly able to fulfill everyone’s expectations?
This is the second of my two-part article, (some might say activity), on establishing what exactly it is that is expected of you, how to manage these expectations, and as and where clashes exist, analyse and establish the most important expectations in order to be the most successful leader that you can be. If you haven’t read it already, please see part one here. Part two will make a lot more sense if you do!
So you’ve used part one to establish expected characteristics of you as a leader and the clashes of different stakeholders. But now what? How on earth are you meant to compromise on the clashes? When I work with clients on this in my coaching sessions, here are the steps we work through.
Engage in some self-reflection.
Up to here, we’ve been focusing our attention outwards: to the leader that others expect you to be. But what about you? It’s critical that, before you start to think about what leadership approaches to use in any situation, you work out what sits comfortably with you. What type of leader do you prefer to be?
This is extremely important, because evidence suggests that acting in ways that are very unnatural in the long-term can be detrimental to a leader’s health, leading to, for example, exhaustion, higher staff turnover and lower job satisfaction. So, who are you? What makes you tick? And how does that influence your leadership style?
Lots of people in leadership positions already have a pretty good idea about this, developed both through trial and error, but also diagnostics, reflective exercises, etc., that they have been asked to conduct as part of their leadership training.
If not, don’t fret. There are lots of diagnostics out there to help you work out what sort of leader you might naturally be - some better than others, this book, Defining You, is supposed to be good - but a good dose of self-reflection with a coach, or a trusted colleague, can also help you to reach understanding of what leadership actions do or don’t work for you.
Once you have a sense of what everyone needs from you, and what you need from yourself, you can look for conflicts. Where can you see places that different people are expecting different things from you as a leader?
Copy them down on a separate sheet of paper, in sentence form. For example:
My team expect me to be very flexible regarding working from home, but my peers think I’m being too soft on them and making it harder for them to be inflexible with their teams.
I have high expectations but my team seem to like a softer management style
The organisation has a clients-come-first culture and wants leaders who are the same, but I’m an our-people-come-first leader.
You could end up with twenty or more sentences. That’s OK. It can look overwhelming at first. That’s OK. There will always be some clashes; - the world would be too perfect and a little dull if there weren’t. Research repeatedly shows that we need conflict and difference to reduce our risk and to get things done. What we care about here are the ones that are bigger, and that aren’t helping at all.
Diagnose the extent of the problem
Next, in relation to each sentence, give it a star rating from 1 - 5, based on how big you think the problem is. This’ll be subjective, but you can ask yourself the following series of questions to try to flesh out the problem:
Are the clashes small, or fundamental?
Do these stakeholders come into contact with each other regularly?
How much of the time do you have to spend with this stakeholder?
How much influence do they have on your current/future career?
How impacted are they by your leadership?
Is this clash likely to reduce, grow or stay the same in the medium-term?
How uncomfortable does this clash make you feel?
I use this with clients to work out where the biggest, hairiest clashes are. They are the 5* and 4* clashes. They are the ones that make it hard to perform well;. or to be a consistent leader; or to operate in line with what your company expects of you; and/or what you expect of yourself.
Strategies for change
I would, as I’m sure you know, be being very unrealistic if I said that the best way to deal with a clash in leadership expectations is to get everyone else to change their behaviours and attitudes to accommodate the type of leader you would like to be!
Instead, a more likely outcome of the process you’ve followed above is that you will have gained considerable insight as to where problems lie. So if there are lots of 4* and 5* clashes between your team and the organisation, you know that a conversation with your manager to try to figure out what needs to be done could be important. You will also likely find - if you are the same as the clients I have run versions of this exercise with - that the process of writing it down and organising it will give you more confidence to talk about them. It will mean you have an evidence-based, thought-through conversation rather than something rushed and unconsidered. You will have the language and a sense of the nature and scale of the problem. It will make conversations with your manager, or your staff, a lot easier as a result.
If you do identify areas where you think it might be realistic to try to effect change - whether from yourself or others, then the usual rules apply. Behavioural change is hard, new habits are difficult to establish, and you will need to work at it. So, if you realise that you are not a ‘small talk’ person but your team would like you to be, then diarising a need to walk around the office and do some small talk every other day will help you to embed it as a habit.
If it’s change in someone else that you are expecting to see, then giving them the will, and the skill, to change will be critical. The ‘will’ may be about educating them regarding what their current expectations are doing to you, and to others. For example, if you have a team member who is very revenue-driven, in a company that is more relationship-driven, then exploring this with them and informing them of how things are supposed to be, might be a critical part of bringing them into line with the relationship-perspective that the company has, and that you have in your leadership style, too.
Sometimes, however, this sort of work can reveal that the clashes between yourself and your organisation - in terms of what they expect from you as a leader - are too great to resolve. If you think there’s an unsolvable issue at the heart of the clash - that you can’t change, or your team can’t change, or the company can’t, and it’s too fundamental for you to comfortably soak up in your day to day role, then you may have exposed a problem that is severe enough for you to think about changing role. So if you hear those little voices in your ear, telling you that these clashes are, actually, quite a problem for you, you may choose to allow them to be heard.
Remember that, even if you are not in the right place now, there is likely to be a right place for you. A successful leader is one who can find their fit in an organisation that needs their strengths. So a company that’s growing really rapidly might need a straight-to-it manager who can deal with the operational detail that is needed. A company in an industry with a sudden focus on wellbeing after years of long-hours culture and burnout leading to better regulation might need an empathetic leader. And an old-fashioned firm that’s stuck its ways might suddenly find a need for an entrepreneurial leader to inspire and motivate towards innovation and change. Different leadership expectations genuinely create a range of opportunities, so rather than feeling concerned, get out there and look for the right one!
There is a lot to consider here and it can be hard navigating it all by yourself. I recommend talking to a trusted colleague, mentor, or working with a coach, because it will help with perspective, clarity and focus on the end goal of confidence and happiness in your ability to lead.
If you’re interested in exploring the option of coaching, even just finding out if it’s for you, I’d be delighted to set up a chemistry session and you can find out more about my services and my experience in this area by visiting https://www.taylorbest.com/coaching.