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Plan to become a better leader

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You've probably heard the phrase “leaders aren't born, they're made.” As a behavioral psychologist, I have seen plenty of instances when people worked hard to become strong leaders. Unfortunately, just as often I have witnessed individuals promoted to leadership roles as a result of their “expertise” in a subject matter, rather than their ability to motivate and guide others to succeed. I have observed these individuals do little or nothing to improve their leadership skills and, as a result, ultimately fail in their roles.

These experiences have led me to the conclusion that “technical expertise” is a necessary but insufficient ingredient for leadership success. Recently in my consultation with a leadership coaching group I facilitate, members of senior management asked the question: “Do you need to be able to proficiently perform each of your employee's jobs in order to be a stellar leader?”

My answer is no. While it certainly might add to your credibility to understand the content and subject matter required by your employees to do their job well, just as important is understanding the critical factors and processes needed to remove obstacles in their path. Even more important might be your ability to motivate those who report to you to “go through the wall” to accomplish their stated goals.

While there's no surefire path to leadership success, there are steps you can take to enhance your chances of being a leader who flourishes. Past articles in this column have addressed the importance of proactively approaching your senior management role and identifying both your strengths and deficits as a leader.

Becoming aware of the unique set of skills you need to develop to influence your team to produce their best efforts and achieve your organizational goals is the first step to becoming a great leader. Once you determine your leadership style and presence goals, you then need to create a leadership development plan to acquire these skills and embrace your desired approach.

While it is possible to learn new leadership strategies, maintaining these behavioral changes can be daunting. In fact, no matter how much we desire to engage in new behavior, when we are under great amounts of stress it is natural to fall back into old behavior patterns. Therefore, before you embark on a leadership development plan, reviewing the following strategies should substantially improve your chances for creating a viable plan and making significant and sustainable changes:

Behavioral strategies for change
Evaluate your readiness for change. This includes having a clear and specific vision about the type of leader you want to be, and understanding you may need to operate out of your comfort zone to get there. If you're not ready to stretch, you may need to revisit whether you're ready to change.

Break down behavior that seems complex. Remember that all complex behavior is a bunch of simple behaviors combined, so drill down to separate your larger goal into “bite-sized” components. For instance, if you want to be more collaborative, you might schedule meetings with colleagues, focus on being more open-minded, and identify people who are collaborative and consider the behaviors required to be thought of as a collaborator.

Just do it. Behavior is easier to change than feelings, so it makes sense to try a new approach and see what happens. In the best-case scenario, you get reinforcement, but in any case, you'll learn something that will help you down the line. You want to focus on completion rather than perfection.

Shift your mental framework. Set a model for change by establishing SMART goals (specific, measureable, action-oriented, realistic, and timely) and writing them down. It's been proven over and over again that when goals are written, they're more powerful and effective, as accountability rises.

Assess your own motivations. Think about why you're making behavioral changes to enhance your leadership skills. For instance, if you want to be considered as a strong leader, think about the language you use. If you frequently use the phrase “I can't,” reprogram yourself to use “I won't” instead. The former reflects weakness, while the latter represents a choice you've made.

As with all behavior modifications, the ultimate goal is to incorporate new, productive behaviors into your current style. When you accept the challenge to act in ways that support your goal to be the best leader you can be, the result will be a journey of self-awareness that can significantly boost your leadership aspirations.

Denise P. Federer, Ph.D. is founder and principal of Federer Performance Management Group. She has 27 years of experience working with key executives, business leaders and Fortune 500 companies as a behavioral psychologist, consultant, coach and trainer. Contact her at: {encode="[email protected]" title="[email protected]"}


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