The Makeup of Leadership
The main components of leadership are self-awareness and discernment. As a leader, you must first understand how you work, how you communicate, and how you make decisions. Then, you must be able to read a situation that includes others, and act appropriately. A good leader knows the outcome they hope to achieve, and then works within the circumstance, and with their propensities in mind, to accomplish that goal.
As a leadership coach, I have encountered, and tried to dispel, many misnomers people have about hiring a personal development professional. My goal is to clarify the skills required to be an effective leader, and empower you to take charge of your professional development. In order to do this effectively, it’s important to address much of the confusion that surrounds the role of a professional coach.
1.) It’s "counseling" versus it’s "coaching."
Many times, people are concerned that professional coaches will try to get inside their brain, and that’s not the case. There are some psychologists who do coaching, but their practice looks much different. As a leadership coach, I try to understand your style, and then equip you with the skills to catapult you to success.
Coaching lets me understand what your style is—the way you communicate, think, and make decisions, and how that impacts others. The crux of it is to help you align your intent with your impact. Many times, we don’t realize that our style of being doesn’t come across as we intend or expect it to. For example, if your co-workers think you’re intimidating, I essentially hold up a mirror for you, and help you to understand why that might be.
As you become self-aware and understand your style, a coach helps you discern how to make decisions given that style. You learn to read situations, your environment, and yourself and others, and make decisions based on those factors, rather than simply reacting as you always have. Leadership coaches teach a thought process that allows you to analyze situations and act in a way that achieves your goal. This allows you to better tailor your approach as a leader. For example, you may decide to teach a team member a new skill, as opposed to activating him or her to contribute his or her current talents to the team.
2.) Coaches create change versus people create change.
Many people think that just by working with a coach they’ll improve, but that’s not the case. Like anything, leadership takes practice. You have to be willing to go out, try new behaviors, and work at it. It’s the same as if you were to hire a personal trainer. The trainer can’t work out for you—you have to do the work to achieve your goal. The same goes for developing leadership behaviors.
You also have to be willing to make yourself vulnerable. A coach isn’t with you all the time, so it’s essential to have the support from others who will observe your behavior and give honest and constructive feedback. It should be from someone who knows you and who you trust. Build a network of people who are invested in you, and then share with them how they can help you stay accountable. You can do the same for them as well. If they’ve embarked on a journey of self-improvement, you can help each other maintain a level of responsibility to practice.
MOST FREQUENTLY COACHED (MFC):
We all struggle with the idea that we don’t belong, or that we don’t have the answer, or that if we’re in a management position we should always know how to lead. To help dispel the myth that only ineffective people rely on professional and leadership coaches, I’ve outlined three primary leaders, or MFCs, who benefit from specific skill development.
A rising star: Someone senior in the organization sees potential in this person. They’re a diamond in the rough. There’s not much polish, but the raw talent is there and the organization is willing to invest in them.
Subject-matter expert: They’re great in a content area and rise into a leadership position as a manager or more senior position within the organization. Often what got them there isn’t what allows them to rise up within the organization. They’re great doers, and may lack nuanced leadership skills.
New to management: Someone who’s never led before, doesn’t know how to put teams together, and doesn’t know how to hold people accountable. They’ve risen to leadership because they are motivated and committed achievers. Suddenly when they’re leading, they don’t understand that others don’t work like them.
3.) Leaders seek help when they’re ineffective versus because they know they can be more effective.
Accepting a coach or leadership training does not imply that you are broken or ineffective, it means that you, or someone around you, sees that you have untapped potential. If guidance can turn the dial for you to improve your skills just a little bit, then you can be even more successful. While it can come in the form of a promotion, the real value you’ll see is in your ability to effectively lead and activate those around you in a way that’s authentic to you.
You don’t need to know everything as a leader. We all, even managers and those who’ve enjoyed success, struggle with Imposter’s Syndrome and feeling like we don’t belong. When you ask for help, it’s not because you don’t know and you should. It simply means that you, or someone who sees your potential, recognize there’s capacity for growth. That’s why I’m here; that’s why leadership and professional coaches exist. You don’t have to have the answer simply because you’re a leader or have been put into a management position. But, you can focus on developing leadership skills and the behavior that will help you excel.
4.) A leader is a type of person versus leadership looks different for everyone.
There are many people who are naturally charismatic, extroverted, funny, and outgoing. Many times this is the stereotype that comes to mind when we think of leadership. But, it’s simply not true. People are leaders if others want to follow them. And, people want to follow people who are clear, who set expectations, who make clear the standards of success, and who have integrity. These are all behaviors that can be learned and exhibited; they aren’t inherent. In fact, some of the most effective leaders are those who are quiet, introverted, and don’t exemplify the stereotypical leader typecast. What they do have are behaviors that people want to follow. Leadership is about what you do rather than who you are.
The best way to make people successful is to help them leverage their strengths. Whether you’re an introvert, an extrovert, highly analytical, or highly collaborative, you can change your behavior without changing who you are. Leadership is about behavior. If you know your strengths, you can use those to become a good leader. You can learn to understand how to communicate effectively, set goals and expectations, delegate well, and hold people accountable. If there’s something that you struggle with, for example, if you’re introverted and struggle to communicate as often as needed, you can be mindful of it, and either work to find a way that you can comfortably communicate or know that it’s something to work at. Again, leadership is about the behavior you exhibit and not about who you are as a person.
Kelley Forseth, senior consultant and president of Clarity Consulting, is passionate about helping organizations resolve internal problems and leadership struggles to get to real results. Her gracious, yet forthright manner makes her a collaborator that we gladly pick up the phone for at any hour.
She’s designed and facilitated professional interventions for small, family businesses to Fortune 100 companies. She’s served as chief talent officer for a multi-million dollar company, has coached front-line managers and CEOs, has developed management curriculum for several dozen organizations, and has led large-scale change initiatives.