Leadership Takes A Different Type of Work: Mindset Shifts for Leaders
It's become pretty common knowledge that the highest performing individual contributor does not always equal the highest performing leader. There are quite a few reasons why there might be a gap between the exceling individual and the excellent leader. I have had the chance to work with and to coach individuals in my own life in to new leadership roles - because there is a difference between being a first-level leader of people, to leading leaders of people, and so on. At each step, the new role requires some reshaping of practices - or they could turn in to leadership fatal flaws.
Let's look at that initial taking on of the wonderful opportunity of leading people. I really appreciate Simon Sinek's reminder that "Leadership takes work." One of the key aspects is that leadership often takes a different type of work, which takes various mindset shifts. A few are listed below, as a place to start.
Mindset Shift #1: Where do I get my satisfaction at work?
When someone comes to me who is thinking about a leadership role (or possibly shifted in to a new role or higher level of leadership), often I will ask questions like ...
What does a good day look like for you?
What makes you feel accomplished?
What gives you the greatest satisfaction at work?
Often times the responses to these questions give me important insight in to what type of mindset shifts might need to happen; for example, "I love checking things off my to do list," "I love digging in to analyzing spreadsheets,"... insert various specific tasks that are typically highly individual and controllable by the person.
Anyone who has had the honor of leading people knows that leadership is the furthest thing from doing things on your own and people are not controllable.
Mindset Shift #2: How do I shift for doer to teacher?
High-level individual contributors often excel at whatever they were contributing; regardless of expertise, they generate results and get things done. Who doesn't want to promote great talent? Who doesn't want to be promoted?
Sometimes this mindset comes from an altruistic place; I do not want to add more to the plates of others.
Sometimes this mindset comes from a sense of urgency; I can fix this faster than having someone else.
Sometimes this mindset comes from a sense of superiority; I can do this better, so I will just do it myself. (This mindset is dangerous in leadership and could be the topic of an entire book.)
Whatever is blocking the mindset to teacher or to coach, the shift is still an essential one to make for any leader. While there are a lot of different shifts that need to be made, this mindset shift can prevent bad leadership habits like burnout or unintentional (or intentional) micromanagement.
Mindset Shift #3: How do I put the needs of others above my own?
There was a time period when the thought was that an organization needed to revolve around the needs of a leader. There are lots of phrases that I remember hearing phrases like "rank has its privilege" that indicated that someone in certain positions was "owed" certain privileges and/or rights. To be candid, there are a lot of leaders who still subscribe to this idea that their needs are more important than others. I have often seen where these leaders fall trap to what I refer to as Leadership Hypocrisy. Many leaders know that they should put others ahead of themselves but often will justify behavior based on various rationale. (Read the above link for more information on that idea.)
Whatever the reason or rationale, learning to put the needs of a team above your own needs is a transition for many leaders. It isn't about a selfish orientation; it's more about the habits and often discipline of high performing individuals. They know what works for them and how to accomplish things. It is different when you are leading a team and meeting others where they are at.
What this might look like for a first-time leader:
Patience: we all learn differently; being patient with those who do not learn in the same way
Curiosity: avoiding assumptions that someone understands or does things the same way; practicing curiosity can help new leaders to ask themselves - what do I not know prior to rushing to judgment (generally a never-ending leadership practice)
Assess what gives you joy at work and actively mitigate potential opportunities to fail to embrace these mindsets. A quick tool to help guide anyone considering leading others as a future step (or for leaders at any point in their leadership journey; I encourage this type of pause for any leadership transition.)
One of the most important aspects of these mindset shifts and practices is that you do not currently have to be in a position of authority or formal leadership to start practicing them. Yes, that means you can start today to build the habits of mind and practices of leadership.
Reed, S. (2022). Avoiding Leadership Hypocrisy
Sinek, S. (2014). Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don't.