When you read leadership material on the internet, it can often feel like everything is meant to be easy.
Top 5 ways to motivate your team, 10 tips for having difficult conversations, How to get promoted. It’s all been written and there are instructions for every topic under the sun.
In real life, things aren’t very easy because people are involved and different life factors compound to increase the level of difficulty.
For instance, let’s see you have a difficult conversation with a team member when you haven’t had much sleep, you have a huge headache and your own boss has just sent you an email which makes you want to throw your laptop across the room.
But you have to be better than that. You have to be perfect, controlled and calm. All the time. You need to monitor your emotions, observe them and use them as information, but never to give in to them.
Sometimes you won’t be a good leader and that’s OK
Let’s revisit one of my favourite stories (Oh, the Places You’ll Go!) from the most famous Doctor ever, Dr. Seuss.
One particular paragraph is good to keep in mind:
“You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed.
You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.
Except when you don’t.
Because, sometimes, you won’t.”
Yes, that’s right. Sometimes you’ll stuff it up. Becoming a better leader is about learning from mistakes.
Sometimes, you’ll be in a bad mood and you won’t treat people the way you should.
Occasionally, you’ll feel the pressure and you’ll cut corners.
Sometimes people might think you’re not a good leader.
Repeated poor leadership is not OK
If you make a mistake or you treat somebody badly once in a while, that’s OK. If you communicate poorly once every so often because you’re busy, that can be OK too. You will stuff up sometimes, and someone will think you’re an idiot.
If you learn from your mistakes and actively try to avoid making the same ones again, then you’re on the road to becoming a better leader.
Realising you have made a mistake is the first step in becoming a better leader.
Thinking of a way to fix it or avoid it for next time is the second step to becoming a better leader.
The third and final step is avoiding the issue altogether from applying your learnings from steps 1 and 2.
How to tell if you aren’t becoming a better leader
There are a few signs that will tell that you might not be improving the way you lead. The trick is to be more observant of the world around you.
Your team makes the same mistakes. Again.
If your team are making the same errors again, you need to communicate more clearly, document processes, or pay more attention while the work is happening. It’s on you.
Your team is unhappy or disengaged for a prolonged period
If your team is continuously disengaged and unmotivated, you need to find out why. Sometimes you can’t fix everything, but there are most likely improvements to be made. Ask for feedback from them. Listen to it. Apply it when you can. Even little things.
You never stop to reflect on how things went
If you find you keep running at top speed and never stop to reflect on how things are, there is a good chance you are missing something. Organise a forum with your team to stop for half an hour and dissect the issues and positive outcomes that you have seen over the past month.
If you’re not becoming a better leader, you’re staying the same or getting worse. Stop once in a while and observe how your team is working and how things are going. That urgent report can wait.