How Business Leaders Can Gain from Their Personal Pain Points
Every leader dislikes — even hates — when it’s time to tackle certain unpleasant tasks. While the definition of “unpleasant” varies from person to person, it’s safe to say that we all have them, and that a few of them are almost universally unpopular.
There’s no way to avoid the hard jobs and tough responsibilities that come our way as leaders — facing them is a core part of leadership. However, there are ways to make them less intimidating, and even to achieve valuable growth in the process.
Pay attention in trainings
If you’ve racked up decades of experience in a leadership position, your mind may wander during any type of training, and you’ll wonder what you’re doing there. After all, isn’t the nameplate on your door testament enough to your skills and success? Pull back a little from that attitude, and you’ll realize that true leaders never stop seeking out new information and perspectives that will help them do their jobs better.
Trainings often focus on conflict resolution, communication, and interpersonal skills, the so-called “soft” skills that typically require cultivation over the long term. A good training session on any of these skills can, at the very least, offer even the most seasoned leader insights on changing perspectives, new techniques, and emerging conversations.
No one person can constantly maintain awareness of everything that may be helpful in managing and leading an organization. So instead of checking your phone and looking bored at the next training, sit alongside your team and try to bring a fresh, open-minded focus to what you’re learning.
In the case of leadership skills training, you’ll want to pay particular attention. A top-flight trainer can help you gain a needed infusion of new ideas on how to manage and develop your team, lower employee turnover and boost engagement, hone your confidence in communicating, and identify new business opportunities, to name only a few benefits.
Ask your team for feedback
This can be a sensitive subject with managers and leaders. It may seem counterintuitive to ask employees and subordinates for their opinions on how you’re doing, when it’s your job to provide feedback to them through performance reviews, coaching, and the like.
Yet there are multiple ways you and your team can benefit when you ask for honest, constructive feedback from them. If your relationship is solid and healthy to begin with, you can expect to receive open and detailed information on your leadership style, current issues in the organization, and ways the organization as a whole can take advantage of new opportunities.
In addition, your team will appreciate being asked to contribute at this level and will likely feel renewed bonds of trust and respect with you and the organization.
Think of feedback as just one more way to practice the vital management skill of actively listening to your employees. What you learn can be useful as you assess the state of your own professional development as a leader, and as you strategize for the short and the long term. It can also help you make timely adjustments if you realize that the course you’ve set isn’t the right one.
Admit your mistakes
We all make mistakes, even the most experienced and thoughtful among us. According to an increasing number of expert consultants, the ability to admit to mistakes is one of the distinguishing characteristics of a good leader. There is power in admitting when you’ve been wrong, and doing so usually redounds to your benefit in terms of respect from your team.
On a basic level, owning up to your mistakes, misperceptions, and failures of leadership is simply the right thing to do. Following through by acknowledging responsibility for a situation that went wrong is a courageous act. Working to correct it shows tenacity and commitment to the mission of your organization.
Use your mistakes to your advantage as learning experiences not only for yourself, but for your team. No one wants to work for a leader who assumes an attitude of impossible perfection and all-knowingness, who never apologizes for fear of losing status.
Admitting your mistakes allows you and your team to quickly regroup from losses and put yourselves back on track to achieving your goals. By being honest about your share of the blame, you can quickly cut through your team’s anxieties and engage them on how best to move forward. You can also leverage your own mistakes to guide and coach your team, giving them the benefit of your hard-won experience.
Have difficult conversations
Most people manage difficult conversations simply by ignoring them and hoping the root problem will go away. But as most of us know from experience, that is seldom the outcome. Unfaced problems tend to fester. Ultimately, it’s much more advantageous — and less costly in time and resources — to confront problems early and head-on.
As we’ve seen above, if you’ve gained the trust and respect of your team, they will inform you of developing problems, or you will be attuned enough to note them yourself. Some of the most common difficult conversations involve emotionally fraught issues: disciplining or firing a poor performer, giving bad news about profits and benefits, or discussing organizational problems whose solutions will require sacrifices from everyone.
Whatever the nature of the difficult conversation, experts offer a few key tips. When you have to deliver criticisms, reframe them as opportunities for coaching and advice that will help your team members develop greater skills in the future. In the case of a termination, there is never going to be an easy or comfortable way to approach it. It’s best to be honest and direct while showing empathy and humanity, and to allow plenty of time for the person to process something that will strike at the core of their sense of personal worth.
Provide context when you ask your employees to accept unpleasant realities, such as not receiving an expected salary increase. Context provides the background needed for you and your team to focus on next steps: how they can achieve goals in another way, and how you as the leader can help.
Be intentional about your tone and attitude. You can help you and your team grow by showing confidence that, despite natural feelings of reluctance and discomfort, difficult conversations can open up new opportunities to regroup, refocus, and improve your organization to everyone’s benefit.