Leadership is indeed a very tangible and precise profession—a career that takes out-of-the-ordinary discipline and skill to achieve hoped-for results, while ensuring the active support of others. I often compare this role to that of a surgeon. Imagine if you went through medical school, completed all the study, and then for the first time once the sheet was pulled back, someone handed you a scalpel and said, “Cut him open.” It’s counterintuitive behavior because our mothers taught us not to poke people with sharp objects. Yet, once a surgeon has gained skill in making incisions, they can do it in their sleep because it has become second nature. The same principle is true regarding managerial leadership. And, without the discipline and rigor of others-centeredness, including professional management skills, we are sure to hurt and harm those we lead, rather than being the healers we were meant to be as leaders.
So what is it about authentic leadership that goes against the grain? First, as stated above, it requires that we make it about our staff and not about us. Those who are self-centered and constantly irritated with others’ behavior are really in it for themselves. They lack virtue, will invariably impact those around them in a negative way, and fail to execute well as a leader. Second, it requires honed professional management skills, which is a wholesome form of influence rooted in a deep understanding of humanity. The combination of these two qualities will help a burgeoning manager become a true professional over time, if he or she can maintain the disciplines of these two principles. No wonder we have such a difficult time finding the right person to manage others.
What usually happens is that we promote someone to management because they are the best at their craft. Unknowingly, we’ve just given them a whole new job for which there has been little training and usually no laboratory preparation. They may have good rapport with their peers prior to promotion, but most have yet to go through the real rigors of counterintuitive behavior, particularly with difficult employees. Who among us would feel comfortable using a surgeon who trained himself by practicing on his dog and little sister? The only real way to grow effective managerial leaders is to mentor and manage them in the disciplines of the profession. To develop true, authentic leaders, as mentoring managers we must focus on three specific areas:
• Knowledge (intellectual, IQ): they must have and develop further their understanding of humanity and true human incentive systems. For example: most people would say they don’t like to be told what to do. How then does a professional manager gain followers’ active support and achieve hoped-for results without being a telling boss? The answer lies in the professional management skill of discovery-based questioning.
• Influence (emotional, EQ ): in order to make it about them, he or she must have influence skills that are rooted in emotional intelligence, with a focus on empathy and emotional self-awareness. How do you instill EQ in those you are developing? By managing their behaviors using your own knowledge of human incentives along with the art of discovery-based questioning to maintain accountabilities.
• Behavior (social): unless a person’s values and beliefs are converted to actual behaviors, they will be seen as hypocrites and never gain the respect or active support of their staff. Good behavior in a new manager is not something that should be assumed. It has to be deliberately cultivated by the one who manages him. How does this happen? By providing direct feedback without creating make-wrongs. That is, using wholesome influence skills, tell the truth and demand more without creating a personal disconnect.
This all sounds like a tough job. And, it is. But, it’s what’s required to be a true, professional, managerial leader. It demands a rigor that most people would shun because of the time, discipline and sacrifice required. Anything less is a hobby, and who wants to subject themselves to an amateur, when, like a surgeon, it involves very serious health issues. I admire people who understand this principle and turn down a promotion to management because they don’t feel they have the competency to truly lead. In the end, given a little time, these are the ones you want to spend your time developing as a next generation leader.
Coaching questions: What process have you employed to be a true professional yourself? How can you now use this background to cultivate and develop the next generation of leaders? Write your answer in your journal.