Wednesday, March 1, 2017

10 Ways For Business Leaders to Improve Their Skills

business-leaders-skillsBeing a successful business leader requires continuous improvement in your leadership skills, as well as your products and processes. If you don’t focus on it, you can expect to be one of the 25 percent of CEO turnovers that occur every year from firing or forced retirement, as reported by a recent Harvard study. Business leadership requirements change just like market requirements.

Fortunately, and contrary to popular opinion, people can change themselves, and leadership is a learned skill, rather than a birthright. Business leadership is generally agreed by experts to be a set of behaviors that maximize relationships and market focus in a complex and rapidly evolving world. It’s not about a position, emotional domination, raw intelligence, or testosterone.

In a new book analyzing the behaviors of current business leaders, “Personality at Work: The Drivers and Derailers of Leadership,” by Ron Warren, PhD, he details sixteen ways that existing and aspiring leaders can improve their effectiveness. Warren should know, as the developer of leadership assessment, as taught by Harvard and Yale, and used by many businesses today.

To highlight the right behaviors, I have picked here ten of my personal favorites from the author’s list, based on my own experience as an executive and advisor to entrepreneurs over the years:

  1. More inquiry, and less advocacy of your own ideas. People who are consistently top leaders ask more questions to better understand and explore alternative ideas, rather than promote their own. They ask follow-up questions to express interest and dig even deeper to better understand others’ thinking. This is a personality of empathy for others.

  2. Listen with 100 percent focused attention. Assertive, aggressive leaders naturally focus on persuading others to buy in to their thinking. Better leaders have a personality of being very curious and listening carefully to opposing views. Thinking independently, without really hearing input, is not effective in our quickly and ever-changing environment.

  3. Consistently focus on the “we,” not “me.” Even the most disengaged employee is alert to how leaders refer to me, my team, my people rather than us, we, our team. Words are important. Leaders need the trust and loyalty from their team, before they will get the feedback, commitment, and delivery needed to keep up with market change.

  4. Always be accountable for your own behavior. Leaders routinely expect others to stretch to do the work, but may not appear to apply the same stretch rule to their own behaviors. Team members carefully monitor and interpret what leaders say and do, so appearance is reality. Never reframe faults as virtues, just because of who you are.

  5. Get curious, not furious, when others disagree. Great leaders are not afraid to show emotion to make a point, but refrain from using it as a defense. Focus on learning the “what” and “why” of different points of view, and avoid any hint of interrogation in the questioning. You will learn much more by listening than by reacting with emotion.

  6. Hone an intelligent facilitator personality. Rather than driving a personally focused agenda, the best leader personality is to extract contributions from every qualified team member, especially ones who may be introverts or lack recognized status by others. Only at the end of the discussion does the leader step back into a contribute-and-decide role.

  7. Move from leading tasks to managing relationships. Some leaders are so focused on work, goals, and activities that they lose their personality for driving relationships and processes. This requires providing encouragement, support, and communicating that your job is to help make their work great. Coach others on how to get to the next level.

  8. Watch carefully the words you use. For a person in a leadership position, there is no trivial comment. An unvarnished, off-the-cuff remark by an aggressive leader can cause turmoil in others. Negative emotional behaviors trigger fight-or-flight responses and hostile environments, where predatory behaviors elicit prey reactions.

  9. Non-verbal communications speak louder than words. Negative emotions are literally hardwired into facial expressions: fear, anger, disgust, contempt – and these are easily read by team members. Avoid crossed arms, steely stares, eye rolls, and dismissive gestures. Practice the positive body language of eye contact, open stances, and smiling.

  10. 10. Lean back, and show appreciation and gratitude. Some leaders become so addicted to work that they are all about more work, all the time. They have trouble disengaging from business and celebrating the small successes of others, as well as their own. They need to work on a personality of being positive, present, and available all the time.

Thus leadership longevity, like business longevity, requires continuous effort and evolution as your company matures, and the market changes. Your behavior and personality as a leader can always be improved, no matter how much experience you have. It’s time for all us to start today, by listening to some trusted voices, to make the adjustments necessary for long-term survival.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 02/14/2017 ***

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