Just want to start by reminding myself and those of you who don’t know, why I started this blog. My aim with these posts is ‘Aspire to Inspire’. To gain a better understanding of the knowledge I’ve acquired, put it into use, and share it with as many people as possible.
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The philosophy I’m trying to adhere to is that ‘The teacher learns the most’. So even if you just try and explain what you learn to other people, you’ll make so much more sense of it. I appreciate each and every one of you who have read and supported me through this; thank you for your time.
I was thinking of the best way to describe this topic, especially since it’s a domain I’m trying to work on quite rigorously. I’ll be going through quite a few aspects of leadership, the most important factor here being communication.
As usual, I’ll be reminding you of things I’ve mentioned in a previous post, namely the one about communication (I recommend you go over it considering how relevant it is to this topic, if you have the time to). The source of inspiration for this topic is from: Dare to lead, by Brene Brown.
We’ll start with why, and unravel the various reasons behind leadership, and how you first need to take ownership of yourself. We can then start seeing how communication plays a role in being an effective leader, through vulnerability, courage & empathy. Finally, we’ll dive into some tips on being a more effective leader and how the best way to lead, is by example.
“Daring leadership is ultimately about serving others, not ourselves. That’s why we choose courage.”
Start with why
Let’s start with a little curiosity, why should we even try to become better leaders? A lot of us (myself included) tend to have a misconception regarding who leaders are. We see leaders as those who take responsibility, run projects, captain sport teams, lead organizations or rule countries. But the truth is, we’re all leaders in some way, each and everyday. To our families, friends, colleagues, roommates and community. Whether or not we take ownership of it is up to us.
Being a better leader is therefore beneficial for every day interactions, forming more meaningful relationships, and serving those around you to your best ability.
When it comes to taking ownership, the first person we should think about is ourselves. Once we’re able to lead ourselves; by allowing ourselves to feel, make nonjudgmental decisions, and strive towards our goals in the face of hardship, can we then consider being leaders to others. That’s not to say that we always need to have our shit together to be great leaders. But better awareness, leads to better choices, which leads to better results.
So another pivotal point here, is having some sort of self-awareness. By forming a healthier relationship with yourself, you can ultimately form a healthier relationship with other people (I’ve emphasized that quite a lot by now). So first understand your own goals, reasons, values, and emotions. Understand what works best for you and what doesn’t, then build up your emotional confidence.
Once that’s established, ensure that you surround yourself with people who share your values, visions, and goals. I’m not saying that we should stick to our comfort zone and those we’ve always been acquainted with, but rather find those who are ambitious, hard working, and determined in the same direction. Once we have a solid reason, a why, we can move onto communicating that with other people.
Okay this is something I purposely chose to speak about again, because it serves as a reminder to myself and those of you who are reading. The biggest problem I notice whenever people are in a disagreement or have issues between each other, is lack of open communication. In the words of Brene Brown:
Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.
Being clear is something that sounds so simple, yet we struggle so much with it. The issue with being clear, is that we need to lead into our vulnerability and courage. It’s so much easier to beat around the bush and just kind expect the other person to understand what we’re trying to say. But that’s why being vulnerable is so vital, it allows you to dive into how you truly feel and discuss that with another person.
Also important to note: You can’t give what you don’t have. So you can’t give other people love and compassion, if you don’t have it for yourself first (without it taking a toll on you).
I’m trying to bridge the understanding gap between myself and other people, through uncovering uncertainties and assumptions that I make with them. This can be done by figuring out where I leave others in a blind spot by assuming they know specific things about how I feel, what I’m going through or even about them.
Also, looking into where I lack clarity in truly conveying my feelings and how those affect my relationship with them. A critical aspect of communication therefore, requires more than just speaking; it requires us to be open listeners.
Listen! This is probably something we struggle even more with, if speaking wasn’t so hard already. But just listening to what people have to say will go such a long way in fostering a healthier relationship with them. Don’t formulate your response while they’re speaking.
Immerse yourself in the experience and fully understand where the other person is coming from. Stay present. This leads to the next point that I absolutely love speaking about; empathy.
Empathy is more than just connecting to an experience (putting yourself in another person’s shoes), it’s about connecting to the emotions underlying that experience. This means that it requires vulnerability, because you have to be willing to tap into your emotional reservoir and think about how you would feel in that particular situation.
Although certain people have challenges or experiences that we’ll never face, we can still find a situation that we’ve been through, that allowed us to feel a similar emotion. Herein are a few ways to help develop your empathy skills:
- Perspective taking
- To be nonjudgmental
- To understand other people’s feelings
- To communicate your understanding of their feelings (and your own)
The most common skill that people understand when talking about empathy is the perspective taking. This requires us to be the learner, not the knower. Curiosity is a key factor here, and if you don’t understand where someone is coming from, be brave enough to ask.
“Only when diverse perspectives are included, respected and valued can we start to get a full picture of the world.”
To be nonjudgmental is absolutely critical when trying to deal with other people. This means that we need to be aware of where we are most vulnerable to our own struggles. We judge the most, when people are susceptible to shame and when they’re doing worse than us.
Emotional literacy or intelligence is necessary when trying to understand and communicate other people’s feelings, as well as your own. It’s an uncomfortable process that most of us seem to struggle with, and proves to be damaging in the majority of relationships. If we can’t articulate the emotion, we won’t be able to move through it. That’s why I think we need to actually spend time trying to learn the different emotions that we do experience, so that we can communicate it better with other people.
We also need to be able to show people that we do understand what they’re feeling, as that forms the basis of a connection. Albeit risky, we need to have the courage to ask them about their feelings if we don’t properly understand it.
To be mindful with emotions means that we don’t attach ourselves to them. As with life, everything we feel is temporary. This too shall pass. By paying attention to what’s happening in the conversation, what you and the other person are feeling, as well as the body language, we’ll be able to formulate a more empathetic approach to our responses.
Just a quick reminder that there’s a critical difference between empathy and sympathy. Empathy drives connection. Sympathy fuels disconnection.
I just wanted to discuss a few skills that I’m trying to implement, in being a better leader, through the form of questions and phrases that I can keep in mind. When dealing with issues within a group, bringing up and discussing the issue may sometimes be a roadblock. Here are a few points to follow to help overcome that:
- Name the issue.
- Prioritize being a curious leader.
- Acknowledge and reward great questions.
Don’t be afraid to bring up the issue and talk about the problem. Remember: better awareness leads to better choices, which leads to better results. Stay curious and try to understand the source of the problem and how it can be overcome, together.
Use your empathy skills to further connect with the other group members and gain an understanding of why this might be an issue for them. The aim is to ‘get it right’, not ‘be right’. Another factor can be to encourage questions, which are sometimes even more important than just searching for answers. Don’t let your ego get in the way of asking for help, or admitting your faults. Being nonjudgmental with yourself is critical to being the same way with other people.
Reasons reap results, so don’t shy from asking.
A concept that I found incredibly helpful was to ask the question: “What does done look like?” This allows the person in charge to identify and clearly paint an image of what they expect to be done, and the objectives required to get there. Clear communication allows for more effective management. Here are a few more questions to ask as some rumble starters:
- What problem are we trying to solve?
- What are the assumptions you’ve made to get to your understanding?
- What do you see as the goal of this meeting?
Engage in tough conversations, it’s the only way you and your team will grow.
Be motivated. Observe mindfully. Stay present.
Another important tip is to maintain boundaries. Show your level of self-respect through abiding with your values and don’t just let other people step over you. The same works for you, understand people’s boundaries better and learn to respect them. This works wonder for building up better trust and connecting more healthily.
The best way to lead?
By example. Practice what you preach. Walk the talk. I can’t emphasize this enough, people learn exceptionally through observation. I’ll use the example of parenting to further clarify this point.
When parents are found speaking contradictory to their actions, they wonder why their kids don’t listen to them. It’s simple, children learn the most through observational learning. The psychology behind that is absolutely phenomenal (to me at least), but that learning ranges from emotional reactivity, behavioral responses and habits. Not everyone follows that trend, but it’s a general concept we can mostly agree on.
You can’t just tell someone not to do something, when you’ve been doing it the whole time. I know we want the best for others, and for them to learn from our mistakes. But proving that requires action, determination, vulnerability and courage in the face of our short-comings.
When we can lead through vulnerability and being receptive to having braver conversations, we’ll find it a lot easier to create more meaningful interactions in our lives. It’ll open room for more honesty, creativity, productivity and even love.
So next time you ask someone: “How’s it going”? Don’t just wait for them to say: ‘good and you’?, with your response being “I’m good thanks.” Let’s leave the robotic cycle and aim to have deeper interactions on a more regular basis. Next time someone asks you how you’re doing, give yourself a second to actually think: “How am I actually feelings right now?” and then respond within the relevant boundaries. And when you’re asking them that question, listen attentively, notice their tone and the words their using. Show them that you care, and your relationships should start to flourish.
I’ve hopefully inspired you to take more initiative in your daily interactions and to strive to become a better leader, in whatever way you need to be. We should always start with why and have a clear sense of our objectives, as well as intentions and assumptions.
When we’re able to clearly communicate that with others, it’ll be easier for us to form a structured team. Being empathetic is a no-brainer for forming healthier and more trustworthy relationships, so it’s important to keep the different skills in mind: Perspective taking, being nonjudgmental, understanding and communicating people’s feelings, and being mindful. Some of the leadership tools include naming the issue, staying curious and rewarding good questions. Finally, leading by example through your actions, will always prove to be the most effective way to get those around you to improve.
“Strive always to excel in virtue and truth.”Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)