How often have you found yourself talking with colleagues about the behaviour of other leaders in your organization? It’s a pretty common experience, especially when something major or challenging is underway (e.g. emergence of new priorities, restructuring, or a change of players in the leadership ranks).
And if you think about it – you’re likely the subject of similar conversations as well – especially in terms of how you ‘show up’ during challenging situations. Do you manage to maintain the key essence of your leadership ‘core’ or do you find yourself carried away by circumstances? Do you sometimes regret your actions after the fact, realizing that you sacrificed some key belief, value or principle in the ‘heat of the moment’?
To get at this dilemma, I find it’s helpful to encourage people to think about how they want to portray themselves to the world and how they want to be seen by others. Understanding your response, in advance, to the question ‘what’s most important for me to demonstrate as a leader?’ is fundamental to understanding what’s required to consistently align your actions with your beliefs, values and principles. And it’s definitely required during periods of rapid change and high demand.
During my early days, I used to take a more generic approach to this question (i.e. ‘how do you want to be seen as a leader’) without a lot of consideration to the actual people and situations in which we typically interact. I now realize how important it is for leaders to be crystal clear on the context in which they interact with others. And to ensure they align those actions and behaviours across different audiences (i.e. you, your team, peers/colleagues, key clients/stakeholders, your company and the broader community).
The key question of “what’s most important for me to demonstrate as a leader?” then appears through different lenses:
- For Yourself — this is how you’d like to be seen as you’re looking in the mirror. Typical answers include ‘demonstrating personal integrity’, ‘upholding my principles’ and ‘making a difference’.
- For Your Team — this is how you want to be seen by your team members, those folks who report to you. Examples might range from ‘trusting me to do the right thing’, ‘being really clear on individual and team priorities’, ‘making good decisions on behalf of the team’ and ‘advocating on behalf of my team members’.
- For Colleagues / Peers — for this group, you may see yourself as ‘delivering on agreed-upon commitments’, ‘sharing influence and power’ and ‘willingly offering knowledge, expertise and/or resources.’
- For Key Clients/Stakeholders -– for clients and key stakeholders this might include ‘representing legitimate clients/stakeholder interests’, ‘encouraging value-add beyond client’s/stakeholder’s immediate request’ and ‘promoting a culture of service excellence’.
- For Your Organization — for the broader organization this might include ‘aligning my team’s priorities with overall strategy’, ‘supporting key decisions that I may not personally agree with’ and ‘strengthening our company’s reputation’.
- For The Community — increasingly this audience becomes more important as leaders partner with others in business, government and non-profits to address hard-to-solve issues that impact multiple sectors. Behaviours that might resonate include ‘advocating for collaborative approaches’, ‘building connections across sectors’ and ‘speaking knowledgeably about key issues’.
Without doubt, getting clear in advance on what’s important to you and aligning your behaviour across different contexts makes a big difference to your performance and reputation as a leader – especially during times in which you’re challenged to be your best.