There’s never been more uncertainty, more change and more conflict, and there’s never been a more exciting time to lead. If you have the courage to tell yourself the truth, set new boundaries, promote personal responsibility, stop appeasing and become a radical listener. Here are five ways to grow your leadership courage in 2023.
1. Tell yourself the truth
Take an honest assessment of your leadership challenges. Have you been letting people off the hook because you dread initiating difficult conversations? Have you been accused of not caring, being too aggressive, or micromanaging? Do you know how other see you as a leader?
If you can be honest about your challenges, you can improve almost any situation, but truth-telling always comes first.
Why it takes courage: The truth hurts. The first sign of increased awareness is aversion. It never feels good to have blind spots revealed. As a result, we avoid hearing or seeing things that make us uncomfortable. Once you have the courage to face reality, the truth stops hurting and instead sets you free.
2. Set new boundaries
One of the primary reasons for workplace conflict is the unwillingness or inability to set appropriate boundaries. If your open door has been a revolving door; if you’re fixing everyone’s problems; if you want their success more than they do, you need to set some boundaries. Start by owning the part you played, then update relevant individuals that you’re setting a new boundary. Make sure you intend to enforce the boundary by communicating the consequences of crossing the boundary.
Why it takes courage: When you enforce a boundary, someone’s going to be unhappy. It’s tempting to back down to keep harmony or make them understand, however the reason you needed a boundary in the first place is because they were taking advantage. Remember this: someone is going to be unhappy, but it doesn’t always have to be you. It takes courage to let people feel what they feel without having to back down from your boundary.
3. Promote personal responsibility
Observe “victim mentality” by looking for evidence of blame and gossip. When someone talks about how someone else did them wrong, notice that they talk to everyone except the person who did the wrongdoing. If a team member comes to you with what “everyone else thinks,” take a breath and ask , “What do you think?” Most of the time they will say they are “fine” but needed you to understand everyone else’s point of view. I call this the “power of attorney trap” where one person represents everyone else except themselves. Promote personal responsibility by making people represent themselves first.
Why it takes courage: As a leader you’ll be tempted to listen to gossip to get a head’s up about who is doing what to whom. You want to shift gears by making sure you don’t get distracted listening to hearsay about what everyone else thinks. Instead, ask the person represent themselves. If they have a problem with another colleague, employee or superior, coach the person complaining to go to the person with whom they have a complaint instead of expecting you to fix things without their participation.
4. Stop appeasing
It’s easy to agree with an idea when you don’t have time to think about it, or don’t have to back it up. If you tell employees, “Good idea,” when you know it’s not, or if you’re promising to get back to someone without putting it on the calendar, chances are you’re appeasing. Stop going along for the sake of convenience.
Why it takes courage: You have to give up short term gains and let go of the addiction to feeling good in the moment. It seems harmless when you don’t have the energy for misunderstanding, but to build bridges for the future you have to stop making promises built on sand. Stop people-pleasing and instead make your word golden.
5. Become a radical listener
Conflict is never easy and that’s why so many of us avoid conflict at all costs. If you find yourself getting triggered, interrupting, getting aggressive or shutting down conversations it means emotions are getting the best of you. The skill you need is counterproductive: listening when you’d rather fight or flee.
Why it takes courage: When in the middle of a conflict or disagreement or when you feel misjudged, every bone in your body wants to be understood — to make a point — to share the facts, argue and make the other person wrong. But these tactics never work. It takes overriding years of programming to take a breath and say, “Tell me more.” As Stephen Covey would say, “Seek first to understand.” The one who listens first controls the conversation.
No matter what the difficulty, leaders can develop the courage to cope with uncertainty, navigate through change and manage conflict effectively.
Marlene Chism is a consultant, speaker, and the author of From Conflict to Courage: How to Stop Avoiding and Start Leading (Berrett-Koehler 2022). She is a recognized expert on the LinkedIn Global Learning platform. Connect with Chism via LinkedIn, or at MarleneChism.com
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