You probably have images in your mind of the person and the leader that you would like to be. You probably have a specific idea of how you like to work that characterises you as a leader.
I know I do.
Here’s how I like to work.
I like to be calm and rational. I like to delegate responsibility to people in my team so they can step up and I can avoid micromanagement. I like to use humour. I like my team to be enjoying themselves and to feel that the work is challenging but achievable. I like to feel as if I’m helping my team, not hindering them. I like to give my team credit for good work. I like to be able to reward my team with something they care about.
Is this too much to ask? Are these goals too lofty to be achieved in practice? I don’t think so – none of it is all that complicated. Sometimes I look up and realise that I am not achieving this way of operating, and I know that I have a problem.
Why you need to understand how you like to work
You need to know how you like to work because that is what will tell you whether you’re doing the right things and are in the right environment.
Understanding how you like to work keeps you stable. It is the anchor at the bottom of the ocean that keeps your ship from drifting too far. Many leaders don’t understand how they like to work, or think about it very often. If you don’t understand how you like to work, it is hard to know whether you’ve drifted or if you’re in the right place.
Unfortunately, some workplace environments don’t let you work the way you want to. This is what makes it so important that you understand how you like to work. You need to know if you’re acting the way you want to act and if you’re in an environment that enables you to do your best.
You need to be operating at a high level, because otherwise your team suffers. The more dysfunctional or counterproductive your behaviour becomes, the worse it is for your team.
Noticing the variations from how you like to work
As is often said when someone is having issues, the first step is acknowledging that you have a problem.
It could be that you’re normally calm and rational, but recently you’ve become more frustrated and prone to anger. Perhaps you started to take all the credit for your team’s work because you thought it’s the only way you would get ahead. Maybe you delegate less because you feel as if you need to have more control over the work. Or it could be that you procrastinate more and you’re not proactive like you used to be.
When you notice a deviation from how you like to work, this is a warning sign that something is wrong. It is unreasonable to expect that every workplace or role will be suitable for everyone. However, I believe you have a right to enjoy what you do and to be in an environment conducive to achieving that.
One of the warning signs that I experienced recently was that I never felt like I could get on top of my workload. I had a list of tasks, and I prioritised my effort to get the most important ones complete, but there were many tasks that dragged on for far too long. This is counter to the way I like to work. I like to be able to complete everything that I’m responsible for, in a reasonable timeframe. Anything less than that and I feel I’m letting people down and becoming unreliable.
You’ve noticed a problem – now what?
If you have noticed a deviation from how you like to work, that’s a good thing. Now you know there is a problem that is causing you to behave in a way that you don’t like. Failing to do anything about this will only result in frustration and dissatisfaction with how you are operating. This is a sure path to damaging your self-esteem, a precious asset of any leader.
The next step is to seek to understand whether the issue is fixable or not. Is there a way to change your behaviour such that you can address the imbalance? Do you need to spend additional effort on something specific that could address the problem?
For example, I was recently in a role where there were seemingly a million things going on at once. It was hard to keep on top of them all and I noticed it was impacting my ability to deliver good outcomes, the way I normally try to do. So, I set a system in place for prioritising my workload and tracking my work more rigorously than I’ve ever needed to before. This made a positive difference.
Sometimes, however, problems with how you like to work may not be fixable. Some problems are due to the ecosystem that you work within, which is often difficult to change. For example, you may work in an organisation with leadership that focuses on getting work out the door quickly, rather than putting the focus quality. If this is contrary to the way you like to work, then you have a problem.
So it becomes decision time and you need to ask yourself some hard questions:
- Can you exist comfortably in this environment?
- Do you think you’ll be able to improve your situation by modifying your behaviour?
- Is there a compelling reason to stay in the environment if you aren’t able to work the way you like to? In other words, is this role providing you with something of value?
If the answer to these questions is “no”, then you need to make some changes.
As a leader, it’s important to be able to understand how you like to work so that you know what you’re aiming for. Failure to achieve this is a recipe for dissatisfaction and frustration as you battle to perform to the standard you want to.
Many leaders try to survive in an environment that doesn’t suit the way they like to work. Soon their behaviour changes to cope with the workplace environment. One day, they look at how they are operating and realise they never signed up for this, but by then it’s difficult to change bad habits.
Don’t let that person be you.