It’s a new week at the office. You just found out that corporate is kicking off a new leadership training and coaching program and you will be participating. You know that it never hurts to receive leadership training on how to be a better manager. But, you’re skeptical.
You’ve been through leadership training exercises before. You’ve had high hopes that the training would help you to be a better manager. But, upon returning from the training, you settled back into your usual ways. Your boss has given you specific feedback on how you need to be a better manager. And your employees would really like it if you managed them better. You really do have the desire to be a better leader but how do you make what you learn “stick” this time?
As a leadership trainer, I too have high hopes for those participants in my leadership training programs. I want them to have an “A-ha!” moment and use the leadership training exercises as a catalyst to take them to a new level of effective leadership. The reality is that the ultimate decision to change rests with the individual, the manager in this case, who participates in the training and then returns to the daily routine. Somewhere in-between the training and returning to their jobs, they will hopefully spend some time reflecting on what they learned and make a decision about what they will or will not do differently.
A Conviction to Change
Changing employee behavior requires conviction. Conviction is a strong word that carries with it the idea that we need to do something important that is deep and fundamental to what we believe. Admittedly, most of us want to improve our effectiveness as leaders, and if we are deeply honest with ourselves, we don’t really have a good excuse as to why we haven’t taken more steps to improve our leadership skills.
But, we still lean on those excuses. Do any of the following ones sound familiar?
- I do a pretty good job. I communicate what I want and let people know when they are not getting me what I need.
- It’s true that sometimes I get a little too picky about what I want. But that is because I am concerned about whether my employees will get the project done the way I want them to. I worry about them doing it right.
- Even if my employees have come through for me in the past, I still worry about whether they will come through this time. I know that my employees want me to have more faith in them, but I can’t help myself. Sometimes I have to micro-manage them.
- Sometimes I get agitated and blow my top. I wish that I would do a better job of staying calm, but I get upset and I can’t help myself. I have been told on several occasions that there is no reason to get so upset, but that doesn’t seem to affect my ability to control my angry outbursts.
- Sometimes when I say things, I can tell that I have really upset my employees. I can see their responses, their body language, but I act like I don’t notice.
What does it take to transform a mediocre manager into a great manager? How can we change behavior that is so ingrained in us? Even though there has been a lot of research done in human behavior, many aspects of how we make significant and lifelong change remain a mystery.
Deciding to Change as a Leader – and Really Changing
A few years ago, we had some family pictures taken. I remember looking at the photos, seeing myself and not liking what I saw. I had put on a lot of weight. So I decided to go on a diet. I knew that in making this commitment of losing weight, not only was I bound and determined to lose the weight, but to keep it off as well.
Eleven months later, I had reached my weight loss goal. And more importantly, three years later, I am still practicing the same behaviors to keep it off. I learned that it is a lifelong process that requires a sustained change of behavior. So as a result of making this lifestyle change, I can apply these same principals to help others who need to make behavioral changes, including becoming a better leader.
If you are a manager who has the desire to change your behavior and improve your effectiveness as a leader, here are some things that I learned during my weight loss process that you can keep in mind as you consider making changes to improve your leadership skills.
Overcoming the Fear of Change
Change can be scary and daunting. Many people have a difficult time getting past the first scary thought about what it means to change. People who make significant changes in their lives must overcome the alleged fear that exists with the change. It is good to ask, “What it is that I am so afraid of?” It may be just the fear of doing something different that may be the barrier to your improvement. But remember, once you get going, it won’t seem as hard as it did when you first got started.
What Is Your Incentive?
An important reason must exist for you to be motivated to make a change. The more substantial the reason, the more likely the change in behavior. When it comes to being a better manager and improving your effectiveness as a leader, think about the benefits you will receive when you have improved. Think about what it will look like when you are a more effective leader. Will you have more career success? Will you be seen as a top performer? What will it be like when you take your team of high performers to new heights of competency within your organization? Great leaders are motivated to improve based on their desire to define success in this way.
Take Small and Realistic Steps
Don’t try to change too much in one fell swoop. You’ll get discouraged and give up. Start by focusing on one aspect of your leadership effectiveness, such as how you communicate with your employees in meetings. Determine simple goals, such as ways in which you can strengthen and encourage your employees. And make sure that you are realistic. Be patient and don’t expect employees to respond favorably to your changes overnight. It will take time as they rebuild trust with you.
Use Structure to Sustain Behavior
Put a plan together for how you are going to lead differently. Write it down, set goals for yourself with realistic time frames. Measure your accomplishments. Structure and accountability can be a key component to changing behavior. Ask someone to help keep you on track and accountable for what you want to change.
Commit To Your Goals Long-Term
Changing behavior requires a lifelong commitment and is not a quick fix. Just as in the example of a diet, it is the long term sustaining change in eating habits that takes weight off and keeps it off. The same is true with effective leadership. You cannot make temporary change and then go back to your old ways three months later. You must commit that you will sustain the new and improved leadership behavior and keep moving forward.
Becoming a Better Leader Pays Off
Well, there you have it. It sounds so simple you wonder why you haven’t started already. Seriously, there are very few things that you can do for your career, for your profession, and for your organization that will be more important and have an impact on your professional success than your willingness and commitment to improve your leadership effectiveness.
In order to sustain the changes you make, you must understand that it will be a lifelong commitment. It is important to understand this so that you are realistic about what you are going to do. Now you are ready for that upcoming leadership training and coaching program. Best wishes to you as you strive for leadership excellence.
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