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Five Things A Leader Can Continuously Improve
Experience is something that can often be immediately identified, and experience in the relevant field can be like gold dust, but it’s also something with no end.
Leaders can continuously improve and develop themselves in many ways throughout their careers, and a desire for constant self-improvement is a sign of a good leader.
Here are five ways you can improve as a leader, but also as a team member either in or outside of a business environment.
People communicate not just the words they speak, but also their mood, their anxieties and hopes, and who they are. Whether they want to or not is almost irrelevant as, even with the most stoically poised individual, emotion leakage is always detectable if you know where to look - or rather listen.
Listening is vital to understanding a team and how it functions, and experienced listeners can pick up on personality clashes, worries, and hidden dynamics that remain unseen, and ultimately not acted upon, if the words are taken at face-value.
Although seemingly passive, listening is one of the most important skills a leader can have in their arsenal. Whilst it can be difficult to empathetically listen to people all of the time, doing so effectively can be like having x-ray vision; a good listener can hear what others cannot.
This is achieved with analysis of what is being said and the nuances around that. What people say is important, but the way they say it, and the context of what is said, are just as important. This can be continuously improved upon, and with some real investment truly empathetic listening can become a passive skill, allowing a great listener to pick-up subtle clues and really engage with others almost automatically.
Our own feelings always play some part in our decisions - that’s part of being human.
Objectivity is the attempt to neutralize a bias in favour of professional neutrality. This can be difficult to achieve, but it does offer real credibility to the leader that genuinely attempts it, and respect from all parties if it’s actually achieved.
It’s worth saying here that objectivity is not the same as suppression of emotions and opinions. An objective person isn’t someone who acts like a robot, or as if there are only facts. Instead, it might be better to think of objectivity as accountability; considering emotions as well as facts, and reserving opinion until all factors have been weighed. We’re all human, and we all hold opinions and feel emotions; objectivity isn’t the denial of these things, it’s the ability to compartmentalise them.
Self-analysis is key to improving one’s own objective abilities. Thinking about decisions made some time ago can be more beneficial than thinking about recent or current events, and looking back over any documents of a decision that required objectivity, with the benefit of hindsight, can be helpful too. If an event is analysed that is a bit too recent, memories can be clouded by emotion; it’s like remembering something very embarrassing that happened when we were eight - six months later the memory might have smarted, but as adults these things probably wouldn’t worry us, and may even be being distant enough for us to laugh at.
When attempting to analyse past events objectively there are no rules about the time that should have ideally passed, or the level of involvement we had. You just need to be honest with yourself and ask, can I think about this objectively?
Conflict happens all of the time in life, whether it be good natured or personally based, and the world of business is no exception.
Wherever there is more than one human being, there’ll be some form of conflict at some time.
Resolving conflicts can demand difficult decision making, and it requires both empathetic listening, objectivism, and maybe even a little bit of political maneuvering.
This ever-important skill can be improved upon through practice, but also through reading up on the subject, learning some techniques, and watching others do it (well or not). Learn from both mistakes and successes, and be patient with this one; it can take some time to be both effective and fair at conflict management, but by the accounts of people who are often called upon to mediate disputes between companies, departments, teams, or just individuals, it can be very rewarding.
Some of us are better at conflict management than others, and our ability to be objective and empathetic are crucial factors. Theories around mediation are no doubt important, but practical experience is a must for anyone wanting to build this skill - human beings are all different, and only experience of dealing with actual conflicts directly can properly prepare for what can often be an unpredictable process.
Understanding Technical & Functions
Leaders often head-up multi-professional teams where the range of technical expertise can be so broad and large it would take a supercomputer to actually understand all of it.
A manager may never be able to achieve a detailed understanding of the roles of those under them, but a working comprehension of a team and individual’s role and objective, how they function, and the technical cores, are very important.
For example, someone designing a new application for a Smartphone might not know how to code, but they’ll certainly know exactly what coding is, and probably the basic mechanics of how it works. They’ll certainly understand how important it is, and be aware of limitations and potential problems that the field may be presented with.
New things can always be learned, but the trick here is to decide what information is relevant.
Trust needs to be invested in the related individual or team, and even if a leader shares their field of expertise, getting involved at the micro-level can make people feel usurped and bypassed. It’s probably best for leaders to learn about broad ideas and the basic functions of fields outside their own, but sometimes it is necessary to be selective about this, especially if there are many areas to consider.
It would be wonderful if we could get even a hint of what may happen in the future, never mind see it as it will happen.
Foreseeing events in business is something I believe only really comes with experience, and lots of it.
If you want to see the future, look at the past.
Often things that might happen have happened before, or something similar has happened which could be useful to analyse. Analytical ability, and time taken to analyse and approach similar past events, are critical to trying to forecast the future.
There’s no sure way of telling what will happen of course, but through experience and analysis we can make reasonable assumptions and create informed models.
About the Author
Nick Smallman is the CEO of global communications training consultancy Working Voices. Working Voices provide leadership, sales and presentation training to businesses throughout the world from bases in New York, London and Hong Kong.
You can follow Nick on Twitter @nicksmallman.