7 Challenges to Grow into a Better Leader
We are doing many new things at CTaccess, and sometimes it all feels a little overwhelming. I recently had a conversation where we said with a bit of a grin, “We love change, we eat it daily with a spoon. Our favorite breakfast food is change”. Change makes us uncomfortable, but it is necessary for growth. Our purpose is to make it through all of these changes better positioned for growth with improved systems, more solutions to offer our clients, and more people on our team.
Sometimes though, I find myself wondering how I personally need to change to lead our team to succeed in a greater way. Too often, it is we as leaders of a group or department or company that are limiting our team. Maybe we are not willing enough to hold others accountable. Or, maybe we are not positive and enthusiastic enough. Whatever the issue, I find myself challenging my leadership in several areas, hopefully for the good!
Here Are 7 Ways I am Challenging Myself to Lead Better:
1. Lead with Purpose – I choose to ask myself if fear is my primary motivator when making a decision, or if it is purpose. Often we don’t recognize it, but at our core we are motivated by the negative. We find ourselves saying, “I’m afraid that if…”, without even realizing it. Am I afraid of losing a key team member? Am I afraid of being wrong? Am I afraid of losing a good client? How do these fears motivate me to be less than? Leading with purpose counteracts fear. We can change our outlook by asking ourselves to make decisions based on purpose. One of the hardest things we ever did at CTaccess was to refer existing customers, who were no longer a fit off to another provider, and turn down new business that was not quite a fit for us. Those fears about what would happen if the economy soured, or if we upset a customer would have been easy to embrace. Instead we acted out of purpose. It was in the best interest of those customers to match them with someone who fit their needs better. It was in the best interest of CTaccess to divest that business to make room for more customers who were a fit. This single change ended up creating room for new customers and reducing the stress on our team. Looking back, it was a great decision.
2. Outlaw Sarcasm – Sure, sarcasm can be funny, and it can even be a tool. However, it is often used to cut or deride. “Wow, he really has it together.” “So glad you made it here today.” We all hear comments like these and have probably spoken them. I’m learning that it is better to say what you mean. If you want to express displeasure over someone’s behavior, why not take the time to do it appropriately. If it is not worth having that conversation, then just let it go. Even when sarcasm starts in good fun, it often turns to a harshness, and leads to someone wondering what you really think. As I have often told my children, sarcasm is not a virtue.
3. Encourage x 2 – It is surprising to me how difficult it can be to create a habit of encouraging others. It seems so simple. Compliment someone and then do it again. Tell them they are appreciated. Consistently being an encourager is difficult. It is easy to get caught up in our own world and forget to sincerely express gratitude. It is also easy to express gratitude, but dampen it with a follow up about the next problem or issue. I’m learning to compliment and thank and leave it there. The follow up about the next issue should be a separate discussion. Don’t be the wet blanket, encourage the fire of success!
4. Counter Stress – Often our days are filled with things that can create stress. It seems we are all always asking more of ourselves and more of our teams. At CTaccess, we are in the service business, and when things aren’t going well for a customer, their stress level can be transferred to us. I find that if I let this stress build over the day or even over days, it becomes too much. There are three steps I am working on to counter the stress of the day. First, purposefully disconnect. I purposefully make a mental separation from the day. Sometimes I sit in the car at day end and mentally lay aside the day and pick up my “Dad” hat or “Husband” hat, so that I am present and not consumed by the day. Second, spend time doing something other than work. This could be reading, watching something, spending time with a kid, going outside, playing a game, or anything other than work. Finally, I find great strength in spending time praying or worshipping God, and this truly changes my frame of reference.
5. Embrace Vulnerability – So often we try to act more put together than we feel, or “play bigger than you are”. And, sometimes it is necessary to put on a game face and make it happen. However, there is also great value in being open with others. In his book, ‘Getting Naked’, Patrick Lencioni uses his typical fable telling style to show the value of being open with a prospective client in the buying process. He says, “At its core, naked service boils down to the ability of a service provider to be vulnerable – to embrace uncommon levels of humility, selflessness, and transparency for the good of a client.” In truth isn’t this what we all want. We want to interact with others and with smart leaders who are humble, care about us, and are somewhat transparent, as they strive to lead. How much better is this than the arrogant, self-protecting leader, who is too inwardly focused to really see those around him.
6. Subdue Distraction – Distraction can have multiple meanings, but the kind I am talking about is what dictionary.com defines as “that which distracts, divides the attention, or prevents concentration”. I find that there is an ever-increasing level of distraction during my work day. There are two things about distractions. Some of them are not important and should be ignored. Others are important for a variety of reasons and the goal is to move as many of them as possible into a block of time designated for dealing with them. This is a bit of a balancing act, because often these distractions are attached to people, and even if the distraction is not important, the person is. Much of time management principles are focused on reducing distraction and spending time on purposeful things, but it remains a challenge!
7. Always Think the Best – It is easy to assume that others are thinking the worst in reaction to a situation or something that is going on. This inner narrative goes something like… “Even though he didn’t say it, I bet he is thinking…”, or “I bet she thinks I am lying about this… “. We all know there is little value in thinking this way. It produces nothing good and leaves us with an imagined situation that probably is nothing like we imagined it. How much better to assume the best, even if you are proven wrong. And if you really want to know what is on a person’s mind, how much better to ask a sincere question and listen.
I’m encouraged, as I look at these things to see myself beginning to learn some of them. Leadership certainly is a journey! What are your leadership challenges? Please comment and let us know.
Scott Hirschfeld is the President of CTaccess, an Elm Grove IT support company that has been helping small businesses stop focusing on IT and getting back to doing business since 1990. Under his leadership CTaccess provides the business minded approach of larger IT companies with the personalized touch of the smaller ones. Connect with Scott on LinkedIn.