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While it’s pretty easy to become a leader (it can be as simple as raising your hand) being an exceptional leader takes effort. And being an exceptional leader is important. Not only does it make your leadership role much more rewarding, it makes it much easier for people to follow you.

However, there are no quick and easy fixes. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.” Becoming an exceptional leader requires exceptional leadership skills, and development of these will take commitment, effort, and will often require personal transformation.

Given all the time and energy that’s required, you will need to ensure you’re spending time on the RIGHT things. And just because it’s going to take work to get better, doesn’t mean you can’t start doing this work RIGHT NOW.

So, here are six things you want to work on right now that will have a significant impact on your leadership skill.

Recognize that Others See the World Vastly Different than You

Successful leadership requires you to effectively connect with the people you’re leading. And in order to connect with people, you need to realize that they don’t see the world the same way as you. Their interpretation of events, their perspective, is different than yours.

“Successful leadership requires you to effectively connect with the people you’re leading.“

To give an idea of how different individuals’ perspectives can be, consider the MISINFORMATION EFFECT. This phenomenon, which refers to the “contamination” of a person’s memory due to information presented after an event, has been widely studied because of its impact on the judicial system. In numerous studies, the misinformation effect has led people to incorrectly remember everything from small details of a perpetrator’s appearance, to objects as large as a barn that wasn’t there at all. (reference: https://nobaproject.com/modules/eyewitness-testimony-and-memory-biases).

Additional studies have also proven that our expectations, our beliefs, our previous experiences, our prejudices, even our frame of mind, all greatly affect our memory of events. So, we all have a very unique and personal memory of the events happening around us every day. We don’t remember things the same way as others do.

As Stephen Covey states in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “We must look at the lens through which we see the world, as well as the world we see, and that the lens itself shapes how we interpret the world.” As leaders, we must worry about our own “lens” as much – or maybe even more – than the “lens” of others.

The key to understanding someone else’s perspective is by having empathy. Empathy is a learned skill, and is perhaps best understood with Dr. Brené Brown’s brief video on the topic:

“Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place.” – Daniel Pink

“Master the skill of empathy, of seeing the world through others’ eyes, and you’ll experience deep connection with those you’re leading.”

Find Someone that will Invest in You

Many of us have been raised to think that hard work is all that’s required to achieve any goal. And I wholeheartedly agree – dedicated effort is definitely a key component to improvement.

However, what most of us don’t realize is that every person that has achieved significant success had somebody gave them a leg up. Somebody with knowledge and skill came alongside them and gave them the benefit of building on their success – as opposed to starting from scratch.

Being “self-made” may sound like a badge of honour, but without learning from the benefit of someone else’s experience, self-made requires us to repeat mistakes that others have already made. And since our lifetime is finite, starting from scratch and repeating avoidable mistakes seems like a terrible waste of a life when alternatives are available.

As discussed in my Save Us from Mediocre Leaders article (https://levellingup.ca/save-us-from-mediocre-leaders/), Deliberate Practice is critical to leadership skills mastery. And Deliberate Practice requires feedback from an external person. Someone that has the insight and experience to be able provide direction on how to improve your leadership skills. Someone that can see you in action, or is willing to take the time to hear your replay of events. Someone that has enough self-awareness to understand how their own lessons were learned. Someone that cares enough to give you, what is sometimes uncomfortable feedback.

So, find yourself a proven expert and devour their feedback. And once you’ve travelled a while with one expert, find a second, then a third, and many more. Stand on the shoulders of giants and see exponential growth in your leadership skills.

LevellingUp is a fantastic resource for finding proven and invested experts. Find your giant today at www.LevellingUp.ca.

“Stand on the shoulders of giants and see exponential growth in your leadership skills.”

Vision Leaks

Maybe you’ve heard the classic joke: “I told you once that I loved you. If I change my mind, I’ll let you know.”

It’s immediately obvious that professing your love to your significant other, or to your child, or to anyone, is not a one-time event. However, sometimes we fail to consider exactly WHY we need to re-state our affections.

The truth is that us humans are imperfect creatures, and new input and information has a bad habit of displacing existing information. Our brains are designed to efficiently manage the overwhelming amount of information we constantly receive. For instance, the Reticular Activating System (RAS) is a bundle of nerves at our brainstem that filters out unnecessary information so that only the important stuff gets through.

As leaders, our key role is to communicate a vision of a different and better reality. However, once communicated, we sometimes make the mistake of not regularly re-stating the vision. And, over time, the brains of our followers efficiently displace the once-clear-and-bright vision with new inputs.

“As leaders, our key role is to communicate a vision of a different and better reality.”

Regularly restate the vision. You want your followers minds to be filled with a clear picture of where you’re going.

Communicate, Communicate, and then Communicate Again

The execution of projects – those short-term efforts that cause specific things to happen – is a cornerstone to the advancement of our society. Every construction effort, software launch, and political revolution is, in essence, a project.

And imperfect communication is cited at the root cause of nearly every project failure. If any one thing is holding back societal progress, it’s poor communication.

So, if effective communication is so essential, why do we do it so poorly? I believe it’s because we forget that the bolder the idea, the newer the concept, the grander the vision – the harder it is for people to hear, to understand, and to internalize the message.

The burden to effectively communicate is always on the deliverer – never the recipient. If the message isn’t being internalized, it isn’t the recipient’s fault. So, the solution for poor communication is the responsibility of the deliverer.

And what should the deliverer do to ensure effective communication? Communicate your message at least three different times, in at least three different ways.

This tactic, revealed to me by a co-worker nearly 15 years ago, gives the hearer the opportunity to be in three different states of mind when receiving the message. And to receive the message via different channels – verbal, written, in a story context, in a bulleted list, one-on-one, in a group, etc.

And most of all, the three times tactic requires you, the deliverer, to be very intentional in crafting and conveying your message. This intentionality is the lever that makes all the difference.

Nobody Wants to do a Bad Job

Nobody dreams about the day when they can wake up in the morning and go to a workplace where they can do poor work. However, far too many of us go to a job where we do poor work – and we don’t care that we are doing poor work. How can this be?

Leading people means that we need them to respond in predictable ways to our message. That they will do what we ask them to do and go where we ask them to go. So, for us to lead effectively, we need followers that WANT to do their best work.

The three key elements to ensuring your followers want to do their best work are: fit, motivators and expectations.

Fit, or alignment with a person’s individual values and beliefs, is the critical starting place. No amount of effective communication, empathy, or even disciplinary action, will get the best work out of someone that doesn’t fit. So, start by ensuring your prospective followers share the same values and beliefs as you do.

The three key motivators outlined in Daniel Pink’s his book Drive, are autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Pink suggests, “to motivate employees who work beyond basic tasks, give them these three factors to increase performance and satisfaction:

  • Autonomy — Our desire to be self directed. It increases engagement over compliance.
  • Mastery — The urge to get better skills.
  • Purpose — The desire to do something that has meaning and is important. Businesses that only focus on profits without valuing purpose will end up with poor customer service and unhappy employees.”

The final required element in ensuring your followers do their best work is clearly and fully define expectations. All too often we assume others understand a job the same way we do – and unless we set clear expectations – we often find out what their understanding of the job was only AFTER it’s complete.

For some activities, very loose expectations are sufficient, and only the final outcome needs to be discussed. For other activities, the who, what, when, where, and how all need to be delineated. Good leaders spend a lot of time thinking about what expectations are required for which activities and ensuring these are fully communicated.

Give People Room to Fail

Some of the most complex skills we’ve ever mastered we learned before we were three years old: crawling, walking, eating with utensils, speech, depth perception, etc. And mastering each of these skills required a HUGE amount of failure. In fact, there was no way to master these skills without the iterative attempt-fail-feedback-learn cycle.

“Some of the most complex skills we’ve ever mastered we learned before we were three years old… And mastering each of these skills required a HUGE amount of failure.“

As leaders, we all too often assume our endeavour can’t suffer any amount of failure. But the reality is that the very act of leading people to a different and better future is one that accepts that failure is a possibility.

Giving the people room to fail equates to trusting that they will eventually succeed.


LevellingUp helps people discover their full potential with interactive feedback from experts.

Mike Deboer the founder and CEO of LevellingUp.

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