Insights Blog

Don’t want to be left behind? Become a better leader – all the time.

By Elizabeth Dorey

So, you’ve made it to the top of your organization. There’s an incredible sense of accomplishment when you’re recognized for your talent and track record. Indeed, you may think you have what it takes to move on to even greater success.

Here’s the thing: What got you here may not be a match for what’s next. This is particularly true when you consider the magnitude of disruption in the marketplace. While “leadership development” is an all-too familiar phrase, there’s no escaping the imperative to continually learn as a leader. Yet people who have worked to achieve the most can also be reluctant to take on the necessary work to become better leaders. But if you’re a leader who isn’t constantly learning, you could find yourself left behind.

Learning to be a more effective leader can be a double-edged sword: It’s both attractive and a bit of a threat.

It’s also the only way to see what’s truly possible for your organization. However, many of us have some kind of baggage when it comes to personal development. Maybe our ego gets in the way, or we tell ourselves there’s no time for that, or our pride won’t stand for appearing less than perfect – or all of the above.

If you’re willing to accept that there are always aspects of your leadership that could improve, it’s time to make it operational. There is tremendous power in demonstrating ongoing self-awareness, and great liberation in acknowledging that you don’t have all the answers. And here’s the thing: Leadership development isn’t a one-time event. It’s an iterative process of leading and learning that will power you through the best of times as well as the tough stuff.

Do you have repetitive ways of talking and doing things that have dimmed in effectiveness? Are there suggestions people offer you repeatedly, but you’re not really listening? Do your people have new ideas that never seem to go anywhere under the “how we do things here” status quo?

Whether you’re continuing to learn as a leader in a formal or informal way, here are some tips for yourself and for fostering an environment that invites the continuous development of your people.

See beyond

That big deal your team just cinched – or that discouraging result – is over. The world has already moved on. See beyond your last win or disappointment to what’s on the horizon. The most effective leaders I know have learned the value of continually reassessing where their businesses are and pursuing the extraordinary achievements that are still possible. They never stop questioning if there’s a better way to get the job done. Are you exercising leadership by aspiration or by authority?

Be inclusive

Allow your people to see how they can influence the future and equip them to do so. Invite disruptive thoughts not only to be aired, but pursued. I’m not talking about one-off brainstorming, but rather having new approaches become part of the fabric of your team. I have seen leaders reinvent their games by building cultures where innovation isn’t a one-time event; it’s something that becomes inevitable in their business environment. What has more gravitational pull in your organization – being right or daring to have a new idea and take a risk?

Foster commitment

Some of the best business leaders lead with the “why” of their work. There’s an almost unstoppable power to a shared vision that gets people engaged at all levels of the organization. This transcends the tendency to focus on the “what,” “when,” and “how.” Sure, achieving unprecedented things can be a messy process. Obstacles can impede progress, resistance can complicate things, and setbacks can imperil everything. But if the collective commitment holds steady, people will prevail against odds. Are the people in your organization struggling to deliver, or are they committed to a “why” that keeps them going, no matter what?

Operate with discipline

A fundamental that’s often overlooked when you’re in the home stretch of realizing a new vision: It has to be crystal clear to people exactly what success means. Even in the midst of making historic progress, people might still be hanging onto obsolete visions of what winning looks like. Rigorous measurement is critical to keeping people accountable and aligned. How painstakingly are you defining and evaluating high performance? Are you communicating consistently and doggedly about the metrics that deliver success?

One of the most important things you can do as a leader is continuously seek opportunities to learn – from the people around you, from the results you see (or don’t), and from new thinking. It can transform your ability to lead people to successes they never imagined. It’s not an easy process, but it’s a much more reliable one than you may realize. If you want to take your people to groundbreaking performance – not just once, but again and again – the commitment to leading better than ever begins with you.