For most of my adult life, I’ve committed myself to continuous improvement, whether that is personally, professionally, or in my relationships. I believe there is always an opportunity for growth or learning. And, I’m fortunate that I work in a supportive environment and have a strong social network where I can be myself and try new things. Part of this confidence comes from developing a healthy understanding of failure. I know my mistakes are part of the learning process and not punitive by leadership or my colleagues.
How do continuous improvement and growth relate to leading with purpose? For me, they are the central principles that empower me to lead with confidence and focus, and help those I collaborate with understand the “why” of any business decisions and actions. This brings us to the four distinct actions anyone can take to lead with purpose.
- Think before acting
- Establish a framework
- Celebrate learning
Think Before Acting
Thinking before acting means you must learn to have filters, listen more and talk less, and not react with emotion to a request or comment. Recognize that, while a quick response may feel good in the moment, it almost never solves the key issue or builds trust with the receiver.
In an effort to be a better leader, and to avoid inconsiderate comments, I’ve given myself permission to sit on an idea for hours, or even a day, to ensure I can respond in the most genuine and productive way possible. When faced with a difficult dilemma, I typically ask myself, “What is the outcome or the exchange that I’m hoping for?”
Once you’ve asked yourself that, focus on identifying the root issues of your client or coworker’s problem from a logical perspective. And, instead of giving them a snappy response, strive hard to intentionally understand where they are coming from and to meet them where they are at, as well as understand what result they are looking for.
This has been the toughest area for me personally. And, while great strides have been made, I’m still a work in progress and do occasionally have to apologize for an unkind emotional response.
Establish a Framework
Leading with purpose means setting you and your team up for success, and that can best be achieved by creating a framework to accomplish your personal and shared goals. Being intentional about establishing a framework takes focus, and it’s something I try to do on a daily basis.
I start by asking, “What do I want my day or project to look like?” From there, I visualize the end goal or outcome and then put the steps in place to accomplish the end result. I take this as an opportunity to try new things and get outside my comfort zone, with a safety net of course. And to hold myself accountable at work, I put calendar holds to keep a project moving. These calendar holds can include others if they’ve agreed to join me on the same path for the end goal.
When setting up your own plan, remember that it needs to be flexible to allow for deviations and roadblocks. And accept that you can’t control every step of the process, especially when it involves others. Focus on what you can control – your attitude and how you react to others. There are times that I give myself permission to decline a project or a client if they are not in alignment with my values or there isn’t a meeting of the minds on the end goal.
Personally, moving projects forward requires me to break them into little manageable tasks that I can feel good about accomplishing – or physically crossing off a list. This area is the most rewarding for me, since I’m always able to grow personally and professionally on this journey.
To become the best leader you can be, it is extremely important to surround yourself with people, both personally and professionally, that you trust and are willing to help you grow.
As an extrovert, I love collaborating on my work projects, both internal and client facing. I most enjoy working with others who are fully engaged, committed to the end goal, value customer service, and like to laugh. The most important lessons here are to ensure all involved agree to the what the end goal is and can articulate it, as well as accepting that not all people want to collaborate – and that’s okay.
Another important element of collaboration is developing relationships with mentors who can help you develop in the areas you desire. I personally have several trusted confidantes who have provided me with avenues and discussions that have deepened my understanding of myself and my career.
Finally, if you’ve haven’t spent much time with the concept of psychological safety, I highly recommend reading about it. Developing psychological safety will allow you to be more comfortable with bringing your full self to work and to collaborate more freely with those around you.
Finally, to lead with purpose, take the time to celebrate learning! This can be as simple as pausing to celebrate successes and providing positive feedback to your team members and colleagues.
People want to feel like their efforts have been noticed and that they made a difference. When I was first managing others early in my career, I used to put a calendar reminder to compliment my team members on a weekly basis, until it became part of my regular interactions with others – whether I was supervising them or not.
Even negative outcomes can be celebrated as a learning opportunity. When working with your team members, take the time to pause and evaluate what went wrong with a situation and identify ways to ensure it doesn’t happen again. We can all learn from our mistakes, and it’s about creating that safe environment for continuous learning without ‘offenders’ feeling blamed. There are some things that we will all take personally, but don’t give up and continue to invest in yourself and others.
I can’t stress how important it is to build this learning or evaluation ritual into any project you’re a part of. Saying there isn’t time is a choice you are making to not value continuous learning. While some days it is nice to just have someone agree with you, it is not a sustainable growth strategy.
Take Away Thoughts
To paraphrase Prox CEO Michael Mathieu, leadership is about perseverance and being present. In an interview with Leading in the B Suite, Mathieu remarked, “If you dwell on the challenges, it is daunting. But if you focus on waking up every day thinking, ‘…it’s going to be a great day, I’m going to have positive interactions, let me be present in that moment,’ then it’s not daunting.”
I believe every day is a new opportunity to do better, be better, and make a difference with intention. I’m up for the challenge! Are you?
This article is part of the Learning, Adapting, and Growing: Leadership Perspectives series, which explores the role of leadership from a diverse array of perspectives. Each article is written by a Clark Nuber leader who shares their ideas on the unique challenges and opportunities they have experienced, and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
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