By John Packham
A friend of mine joined the U.S. Army back in 2000, and he told me was as green as the uniform they made him wear. His boots were too big and he stuffed them with tissue paper to avoid having to go back to stores to get a new size. He said he was afraid of everyone he met. They all seemed to have their act together and the leadership rank was very clear: privates were on the bottom. He knew that if he wanted to become worth more than the chevrons on his chest, he was going to have to earn it. The same is true of leadership in business and life, I believe. If you want to be thought of as a great leader, you need to earn that title and respect. We’ve all met our fair share of leaders who were incapable of “doing a good job” and wonder why they couldn’t see that about themselves? One of the things that make leaders great is their ability to recognize their shortcomings and continue to improve upon them. But how do you identify those shortcomings? And who even wants to point out flaws in themselves? Good leaders, that’s who.
Take a Good Look at Your Life
If you have always been at the head of the class or leading the football team to victories on the field, you’ve probably considered yourself to be a leader. But would you say you were in fact a good leader? Were you there for your teammates when they needed you? Did you provide mentoring and support to your classmates who might have been struggling with content? In the Army, everyone is teachable and can rise to their potential with the “right leadership.” In life, people claw their way to the top of imaginary ladders and leave others at the bottom to fend for themselves. Which side of the fence have you been on in your life? Have you been building others up or breaking them down? Have you showed someone how to do a math problem, or have you criticized them because they couldn’t figure it out on their own? It’s okay if you fall into the second category because the point of this exercise is to identify where your leadership skills may be lacking, so you can start to build them up.
Make a List
Take a few minutes and record the last few interactions you have had with people in your organization, or even family. What was the anticipated outcome of those interactions? How did you contribute to that outcome? What did you learn as a result of that interaction that helped you grow as a leader? Make a list of all the things you have said or done with people over the last few days and ask yourself where you could have picked up the slack more, provided more advice, or encouraged someone to push themselves outside their comfort zone a little more? Great leaders aren’t great merely because they can convince people to do things. Great leaders are considered great because they are aware of how they impact other people and how they can help those people without regard for how it will help themselves. In the Army, leaders work to provide the best service to the highest number of people, regardless of how it puts themselves in harm’s way. In the corporate world or your life, if you want to be a great leader, you need to start thinking about how you can serve others, and not how others can serve you.
Feel Your Emotions
As humans, it is often difficult for us to express our emotions to others. It seems that no matter how hard we try, it never comes out quite right. It takes a lot of vulnerability to be able to show your emotions to another person, especially if you are in a leadership position. If you want to recognize your shortcomings as a leader, let your emotions appropriately come to the surface once in a while and reflect on how you can adjust your thoughts to impact those emotions in a way that is useful to you, instead of impeding you. If you know anything about emotions at all, you know that they can stop you in your tracks, prevent progress, and keep you in a state of “stuck” for your entire life. Great leaders can push through these emotions and work in spite of them. If you are questioning your leadership skills, question your ability to manage your emotions and see how you handle yourself when the going gets tough. Do you lash out at others and blame people for the things happening around you? Or do you openly take responsibility for what is happening, even if it isn’t your fault, to find a solution for the team?
Becoming a leader doesn’t happen overnight, and many people would be shocked to find out that others consider them leaders, because they don’t see those traits in themselves. As you develop your leadership skills, it will be important to continually reflect upon the things you are doing right and the things you are doing wrong. Learning from your mistakes and being honest about your shortcomings can help you develop as a more effective leader. It’s a hard process to start, but once you get in the habit of questioning your actions, feelings, and motives, it will get easier to see the areas where you can improve your leadership skills and your life.
John Packham has grown up in a family owned business and now works as the Content Director for Karrass, a company specializing in negotiation training for businesses. John is grateful for the many opportunities he’s had to share his passion for business, leadership, and writing. John’s views are his own and do not represent those of Karrass, the US Army or government, or any other person or organization captured within this post.