Why leadership development is about consistency extraordinaire  

This week marks the end of my participation in the Coaching for Leaders Academy 2017-2018 cohort.

I was accepted to the Academy last October for 12-month training program and I just cannot believe that those 12 months have already passed.

It has been 12-months of waking up 4.30 a.m. every second Wednesday to make sure I am bright and ready to contribute with my leadership group, The Mavericks.

They’ve mostly seen me with a cup of coffee but still.

True, the time difference did not favour my participation, but I’ve only missed a handful of sessions and mostly because I have been sometimes travelling for work.

Many friends have asked me what I find the most useful about the Academy.

One even demanded to know “exact practical examples” of what I have done with the training from the Academy.

I thought I’d share some reflections this week why I decided to participate in the Academy, and what I have gained through participation, and also reflect a bit more broadly on key leadership principles that I have gained and wish to maintain in my life.


My journey that led me to the Academy

I came across the Academy at a time when I really needed support in both my professional and personal lives.

I had just left my husband at a time, was embracing single motherhood, and kept thinking that there must be some very practical ways I could start developing my leadership skills both at work and at home.

Dave Stachowiak hosts one of the best and widely listened leadership podcasts, Coaching for Leaders, that really aims to equip people with sound leadership principles, and encourage people to reflect on their leadership skills and abilities.

When I heard on the podcast that Dave was going to open up applications for the Academy, I jumped at the chance.

The Academy is essentially a 12-month training program around personal leadership that is grounded in biweekly teleconferences with Dave and a leadership group.

The beauty of this program is that you can be wherever in the world and still participate as the Academy uses zoom platforms for all of the meetings.

For someone like me who is a single mother and has limited capacity to travel, this form of Academy training is ideal as I don’t have to be away from work, I don’t need to travel or worry about paying for babysitting.

Each session we reported on our leadership commitments, tracked our progress, and discussed key mechanisms in how to take the next steps in our leadership journeys.


Consistency is everything

The Academy has made me consistent in ways that I never imagined was possible.

It has instilled me “a fanatic consistency” in attending the sessions, following through on my commitments, and showing up even when I have not felt I am in the mood to contribute.

Such consistency is essential for leadership and this is what true discipline is, as noted by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen in their book “Great by Choice”:

 “Discipline, in essence, is consistency of action- consistency with values, consistency with long-term goals, consistency with performance standards, consistency of method, consistency over time… True discipline requires the independence of mind to reject pressures to confirm in ways incompatible with values, performance standards, and long-term aspirations” (p. 21).

True leadership is then exactly that, following up consistently, keeping the big picture goals and visions in mind, and making sure that our actions are aligned with what we are fanatic about.

For someone like me who has immersed herself in leadership and management theories and principles as of late, such statements seem now common sense.

Yet, this is not always the case.

For example, I recently attended a media workshop where the presenter pretty much told us in the first 5 minutes that social media is not about consistency, academics are busy people and should not care about developing a consistent media strategy for themselves.

I had hard time staying quiet, but I did, mostly because I did not want to embarrass the presenter.

But anyone who is one bit familiar with branding, leadership and management literature would say that consistency and discipline are the first and the core principle.

And social media in particular is about creating your brand and being consistent with it.

This is what Academy has really instilled in me, that I can be and become consistent in what I do, but that I don’t have to worry about doing it alone.

The Mavericks and Dave have truly kept me to my word, and I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to get to know these amazing people all around the world.


Practical examples and change

There are several other things that spring to mind when I think how I have changed in the last 12 months.

I finally had the courage to establish my own website and I have followed through my commitment to write and publish a blog each week.

This has not been easy by any means as I often have struggled finding the time to write (like now am writing on a Sunday afternoon that is not an ideal time to publish).

I have learned about different ways of handling conflict at work, about the differences between managers and leaders, how to start building my own leadership ideas and principles and what not.

But it is not just about practical examples of what I have done.

It is the way that I have grown as an individual, the way that I have been able to share my journey with the other leaders, and how over these last 12 months I have gained profound insights into who I am and who I want to be.

That is priceless.

And it has been life changing.

The academy has really given me the skills (and btw no, Dave is not paying me to write this) to understand leadership better and in a far deeper level than before, to keep moving on my goals and targets, and not forgetting that life is really about work and family, intertwined.

I am therefore saddened to leave the Academy but I don’t have the financial support from my institution to continue this time around.

And buying a house does put other demands on my own finances.

But change is good, and I suppose the ultimate test of leadership training is how I use those insights and lessons learned from such opportunities in my everyday life.

I wish and hope I can keep up my consistency even without our biweekly calls with The Mavericks, and keep the friendships going, which I have formed over the past 12-months.

I do want to say a heartfelt thank you to Dave for opening up the Academy for emerging leaders like myself.

As I’ve learned over the past year, one of the key principles is to keep moving.

For me, I will continue walking my leadership talk, and hopefully I’ll be back for a second round soon.

ps. Imagine if we could say similar things about learning how to adapt to climate change… someday we hopefully will.

3 daily steps that will make you a more mindful leader

In the past few weeks the universe has bombarded me with different postings about leadership and mindfulness. This does not seem like such a trivial matter that it would warrant a separate blog posting. But it turns out being a mindful leader is not a common practice and it’s hard to maintain especially in a somewhat frantic work environment that most of us find ourselves in.

For someone like me who is inherently fascinated by different aspects of leadership, the emphasis on mindfulness seems crucial. So what are the actual benefits in leading more mindfully, and how would you implement something like this in your own leadership style?

In a recent book “How we work: Live your purpose, reclaim your sanity and embrace the daily grind” by Stanford Academic Leah Weiss notes how being aware and perceptive of suffering at work can actually lead us to greater personal growth and enhanced emotional intelligence.

Observing ourselves experiencing situations, asking questions about why we feel and act as we do, can all trigger a more focused and mindful approach to our work. This includes practices such as “monotasking”: focusing on one task at a time and giving it our full focus.

But what really struck a chord with me this week was Harvard Business Ideacast podcast episode on how to lead with less ego. In the episode authors Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carte shared their insights what they have learned about the kinds of mindful practices, which can be done on daily basis and that have a significant impact on people’s approach and experience at work.

Begin the gratitude and service mindset

The research results confirmed the most effective traits of leaders: being compassionate, selfless, and focused. Effective leaders are people-centred but not pushovers, compassionate yet willing to make the right decisions, and focused on personal growth including feedback.

I love the quote from Jacquiline in the show:

“I think that if leadership is all about me I probably shouldn’t be a leader. I think that when we look at what does selflessness mean, it doesn’t mean about not being competitive; it doesn’t mean about not being driven, about not being results oriented, about making the tough decisions”

In their research, Rasmus and Jacquiline met many leaders who really were people-centred and compassionate. A core question of leading with compassion comes down to two things: practicing gratitude and focusing on being of service.

A gratitude practice can be done easily in two minutes at work, when you come into the office and are about to start your day and before every meeting. The aim is to calm down, become focused, and then express grateful thoughts for those people that you will meet during that day and who you work with.

Practicing gratitude increases your compassion and also connects you to your colleagues, staff and stakeholders in a new way that keeps you focused and emotionally aware of what they might be going through or what seems to matter to them the most.

Similarly the question we should be asking as people-centred leaders is how we can be of service to the person we are working with or meeting with. Having this inner thought before we meet with our staff or during a meeting can enable us to have a heightened focus on how we can support this person the best or what they need from us in order to succeed and excel in their roles.

The point is: being a leader means you should be self-confident but not self-centrered. A good leader has the humility to take feedback and grow from that, but also to really look at opportunities for his or her employees in helping them to succeed at work.

Embrace radical transparency

One of the most inspiring stories on this comes from the brand new podcast series “WorkLife” with Adam Grant.  Adam interviewed Ray Dalio, the CEO of Bridgewater Associates. (I’ve now told this story already to so many friends that I thought I have to include here as well as the actual transcripts probably do it more justice).

Bridgewater Associates under Ray’s leadership has a policy of radical transparency. This means that everyone, including the CEO, are open for feedback and criticism. In Ray’s eyes, criticism is essential in helping people to grow. In the episode he explains how he doesn’t have time to waste precious mental resources on the kind of bickering that people usually keep up:

“One of the biggest tragedies of mankind is people holding in their opinions in their heads, and it’s such a tragedy because it could so easily be fixed if they put them out there and stress-tested them in the right way. They would so raise their probability of making a better decision. Everybody’s giving high fives, they’re all smiling at each other. But they’re not dealing with the things they need to deal with”

This, to me, is another level of mindfulness and self-awareness that is painful and can cause us suffering but in the long-run eventually if we open up the opportunity for self-discovery, we are more capable of leading with integrity, becoming people-centred, and eliminating wasted time on negative feelings that go around in our heads.

Yet, most of our workplaces don’t encourage “radical transparency” and especially if we work in organisations that are ego-driven rather than ego-balanced, it is not always a good idea to speak up. Unless you happen to work for Ray where that is required (with 1/3 of new employees quitting in the first 18 months).

Get a 360 and focus on what was said

If you do want to get to know yourself better, and get feedback, there are also other ways. 360s are increasingly used by many businesses and organisations where a consultant comes in, interviews many people who work with or for you, and you get a summary of what people have said.

As Tom Henschel notes in Coaching for Leaders episode 341 the key thing with a 360 assessment is not to start guessing who said what and then hunt them down, but focus on what was being said.

This also requires a renewed level of self-awareness, self-compassion and also being mindful about how our behaviour at workplace can be interpreted from many different angles. Focusing on what people said can help us in seeing some of our actions and words in a different light and enable us to improve in our leadership skills and styles.

Tom also puts in a word of caution how such assessments can be misused. 360s should not be used for performance reviews because they are based on people’s feelings and thoughts about one person and not data as such to actually review and rate the performance at work.

To sum it up, becoming a mindful leader requires a handful of steps that are both easy and hard to take and implement:

  1. Cultivating gratitude towards yourself, your colleagues, family and people you come across can help in creating an attitude of true compassion. Take a few minutes each day to express gratitude (but don’t be a doormat, great leaders always know the difference).
  2. Being of service: Compassion is also created by having the thought prior or during the meeting: “how can I be of assistance/service to this person today? How can I help this person to achieve what they need?”
  3. Practicing internal and external focus and reflection: Handling feedback and the learning loop: keep at eliciting feedback from your peers and family and don’t look at failure or miscommunication as a dead end. We learn, as Leah Weiss notes, by suffering at work if we practice both internal and external focus and reflection on the feedback we are getting and giving.

Much of this sounds like soft tactics that don’t serve us well in an environment where everyone is trying to get ahead. But practicing these things daily can actually change the way you lead: with more focus comes also emotional intelligence and self-confidence.