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How to behave like a leader

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Many organizations espouse a set of “leadership competencies”; lists of abilities or traits that their leaders and leaders-in-training need to get proficient at. These competencies are a great start to conversations that must be taken to become a good or great leader in any organization. However, they aren’t always descriptive enough for leaders who want to improve themselves to know the actual tactical behaviors needed to hone their craft.

Take “influencing others,” for example. Influence is foundational to being able to lead; you must be able to sway others opinions in order to lead well. But how does influence translate into the appropriate behaviors needed to sway others? In other words, what do you actually have to do to influence people?

First, a good understanding and explanation of the competency should be made available to you. Using that, you can ask yourself some questions about it:

  • “What will I be doing when I’m influencing (or whatever other competency you choose) others?”
  • “How will others see me when I’m influencing?”
  • And “What have I noticed that effective leaders do when they influence others?”

The competency is the “what.” and the behavior that exhibits that competency is the “how” (or the way of “being”). This example isn’t about meeting with other people to influence them; it’s about how you show up when you meet with them.

Your behavior is the key to becoming a great leader. And the “how” is where leaders often get stuck. They know what they need to do but might get stuck in how to do it.

Figuring out the behaviors you need to practice (and leadership is a “practice”) isn’t easy! Consider trying the following:

Observe yourself and others: What are you already doing well that exhibits the behavior you are trying to take on? What are the circumstances under which you are behaving in this way and what reactions are you getting? Think about how you might expand or increase the use of these strength behaviors. Observe other effective leaders and note how they “behave” when they are exhibiting the competency you want to take on.

Discuss with a peer group, your boss, or your mentor the behaviors that exemplify the trait you are trying to exhibit. Specifically ask what works in your organization (because behaviors are context-specific) and under what circumstances they work.

Get Feedforward from your stakeholders. Feedforward, a process created by Marshall Goldsmith is a way to help others to help you envision what your behavior will look like in the future. You state what behavior you want to demonstrate and then ask them for their suggestions on how to do so: “I’d like to become more influential. Do you have one or two suggestions for me on how I can do that?”

Act on what you are learning. Try out some of the behaviors you’re discovering work for you and for others. Perhaps you’ve heard that, to be able to influence others, you need to listen deeply to key customers about what’s important to them on a more regular basis. Sketch out the questions you’ll ask and power up your ear canals to begin now!

Ask for feedback on how your efforts are being perceived. A specific question will get more specific answers: Not, “How did I do in that meeting today?” but “In our meeting today, what did I do well and what could I improve on next time to sway the participants on that new change initiative for our organization?”.

Adjust your behavior based on the feedback you received.

Keep practicing until you feel the behavior is ingrained and sustainable; this is like developing a new habit. Leadership is a journey, not a destination, so have patience with yourself and know that the best leaders always have something they need to get better at.

Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 12 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive-coaching firm that manages Fortune 500 corporate-coaching initiatives and coaches leaders to prepare them for bigger and better things.