What is your leadership promise? - Michelle Gibbings

Good leaders. Bad leaders. Throughout your working life you will no doubt come across both.

It’s rare that a person wakes up each morning with the intent of being a bad leader. Most people aim to do their best, but they are hampered by a lack of awareness, environmental factors and pressures that don’t bring out their best.

The question to ponder is what type of leader are you? Most people would automatically classify themselves as a good leader, and yet there is often a gap between a person’s perspective of their style and how those working with them experience their leadership style.

It’s easy for there to be a disconnect between how you are seen and how you want to be seen.

Likewise, it’s easy for there to be a gap between how you articulate your leadership attributes and how they are practically applied at work.

This gap between your ‘promise’ and your ‘practice’ is often exposed when a leader participates in a detailed 360-degree feedback process. While the feedback received can be hard to hear, it helps elevate your level of self-awareness. Once you have that awareness it becomes easier to address the gaps.

Whenever you can, seek opportunities to uncover your leadership blind spots and get curious about yourself and the people you work with.

The more you are naturally curious the greater the insights you will generate into what is going on for you, your colleagues, team members and stakeholders. This is important. We all have assumptions and blind spots that can cloud our views.

It’s critical therefore to challenge the mental model you are applying to interactions and discussions.

When you are discussing issues, do you typically think:

  • I’m right – they’re wrong?
  • I understand what’s going on – they don’t?
  • I’m being logical and rational – they’re not?

Or are you thinking:

  • I don’t have all the answers?
  • I’m willing to shift my position?
  • I’m happy to test assumptions, share ideas and find common ground?

The stance you take matters. If you approach conversations thinking ‘It’s all about me’, you’re more likely to end up with conflict, misunderstanding and poor outcomes. If you broaden your perspective and assume good intent of others, you are more likely to have reduced conflict, heightened understanding and better outcomes.

It can help to have a set of principles to guide your leadership behaviour. These principles effectively become your leadership promise. This is the standard that you hold yourself against.

Peter Block in his book Flawless Consulting outlines some ground rules for setting up a contract with a client. These principles, with a few tweaks, are useful to consider in this context.

  1. The relationship is 50–50, which means everyone has an equal responsibility in making the relationship work.
  2. You can’t get something for nothing – both people need to contribute.
  3. All wants in a negotiation are legitimate.
  4. You don’t always get what you want, and you can say no to their want.
  5. You can’t force the other person to change how they feel or ask for something they don’t have.
  6. You can’t offer what you can’t deliver.
  7. You can’t make a deal with someone who is not in the room or a party to the agreement.

In reflecting on those statements, what would your leadership promise be?

From my perspective, I’d include the following:

  • I believe all relationships involve give and take.
  • The standard I walk over, is the standard I endorse.
  • I seek to build constructive, healthy and long-term relationships with the people around me
  • I always listen to the other person’s point of view with my heart and my head.
  • In the words of Brené Brown, ‘Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind’.
  • Be fair. Be kind. Be deliberate in thoughts and actions.

Living your life according to your agreed set of principles takes courage. Of course, having courage is fundamental to living a life well lived.

As writer Anais Nin said: “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage”.

Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®

Michelle Gibbings is a change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian. Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them get fit for the future of work. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’ and ‘Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate Your Career’.


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