I have really been thinking about this question….a lot, lately. Being in a position of leadership is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and when I think about the possibility of twenty more years of doing this, I have really had to evaluate myself and what makes a good leader. Despite a lot of stress and self-doubt, I think I’m doing a good job, so I wanted to share my thoughts with you.
The definition of leadership is as vague as it is blunt. According the the Oxford Dictionary, leadership is defined as:
the action of leading a group of people or an organization
the state or position of being a leader
That’s not very helpful. However, if you search for words that define leadership 16 words that show up. influence, wisdom, inspiration, passion, drive, power, knowledge, credibility, energy, foresight, sensitivity, charisma, action, perseverance, uniting, and responsible
That’s a lot of different characteritics! Yet, those words don’t tell you what makes up a good leader. Sure, good leaders have those characteristics, but what does that look like and mean? How does that play out every day? There are endless articles on good leadership and what makes effective leaders, but there aren’t many that tell you what it feels like to be a leader. Within those feelings, so much of that depends on each individual leaders personality.
I have taken a number of personality tests, and it’s pretty clear that I am an ISFP. What does that mean? It means that I am: a person who is energized by time spent alone (Introverted), who focuses on facts and details rather than ideas and concepts (Sensing), who makes decisions based on feelings and values (Feeling) and who prefers to be spontaneous and flexible rather than planned and organized (Perceiving). ISFP leaders “are very hands-on leaders; they prefer to get their hands dirty on the ground with their team rather than to solely give orders and instructions. In this way, they often lead by example by working harder and performing better than their team.” Yep, that’s me!
While I think that some personality tests and traits are too generalistic, I have to say that if you research the ISFP personality profile, they match me pretty clearly. In fact, one of the best careers for an ISFP is a teacher, which I was for 20 years. I loved being a teacher, and I miss it dearly. Teaching fulfilled all of my personality types and needs, but as I have continued to challenge myself in life, leadership has stressed my ISFP personality type.
While I am a dependable, steady, and nurturing worker, I generally like to be left alone to have the autonomy to do what makes me happy. That’s impossible to do as a leader. When things get in the way of my autonomy and happiness, I get frustrated. It’s not that I don’t respect others opinions, in fact I value them greatly, it’s just that when I’ve decided to do something it has only come after careful thought and consideration. I have usually spent hours along planning things out, thinking about how an event or decision will result in the best outcome for everyone, so I get frustrated when others have not thought through the details and potential consequences of their actions. This is why I value my time alone, to think about the best way to handle a situation or to plan an event, or just to evaluate myself and what I want out of life. Sometimes it might not appear that I’m working, but it’s only because I have done a lot of work outside of the workplace, because that is where I can do my best planning and organzing.
However, the unique thing about my personality is that I am extremely willing to just go with things in the moment. I embrace new ideas that I haven’t thought about, and I like to nurture the growth in others. I see the potential in people, so I want to always bring out the best in them. I love spontaneous ideas that challenge me or allow me to take a backseat. I care deeply about others feelings, and I often have a hard time separating emotions from decisions. When I make a decision, I worry just as much about how it is going to effect the person as it is the school or team. I notice right away when someone is struggling with something, but my introverted personality is immediately in conflict of whether I should discuss things with them or give them the time and space to process things on their own. I can take things personally, and while someone might not have meant for something to be a criticism of me or to be taken personally, I will likely play that scenario over and over in my head again long after the moment or leading up to the moment. I might read an email six times, construing different tones and insinuations each time. I can easily get lost in my head, and my emotions can get the best of me if I don’t take time to process them. I often keep things to myself, so people don’t always know what I am feeling, and I only share those thoughts with a select few people. I hate being the center of attention, because I want the focus of any praise to be centered around my work and the product.
All of that stuff to say, that being the leader of a school is not easy for me, neither is leading a highly competitive and select baseball team. My entire day and career revolves around making decisions for others. I have to make decisions that upset and disappoint people every day. When you deal with people for a living, things rarely go as planned and change rather quickly. Time to myself is always disrupted without notice, and oftentimes with little context as to what problem is coming my way. While I am hyper-focused on one activity, my mind as a leader often has to quickly shift focus to the problem that has walked in my door. I have to seperate the emotions of what I was just thinking about or dealing with in that moment to address to current situation. And then, when that situation has been resolved, I have to go back to what I was working on before without carrying the emotions from the previous situation into what I am going back to working on.
If you’re a leader and reading this, you can probably relate. If you have a different personality type you might be reflecting on how certain situations make you feel. If you haven’t been in a leadership position, it is common to think about how you would handle things if you were. One thing I have learned about leadership is that it looks pretty easy when you’re the one that isn’t doing it.
So how do I try and handle the things that come at me as a leader? I’ll try to explain below. You may not agree with them, but so far in my coaching and professional career, I have graded out pretty highly from my employees, players, and parents. Let me share a little secret to my success.
- As a leader, you have to recognize the problems you can and cannot solve. As a person that likes it when everyone gets along, you have to understand that will never truly exist. Yes, it is a leader’s job to resolve conflict between employees, but you cannot change personalities. You can ask that behaviors are changed, that people become more self aware of their actions towards others, and that they respect and value the efforts and opinions of others, but as a leader you cannot control how others will perceive you or others. If you put all of your time into trying to make sure that everyone gets along, you’ll run the risk of driving them further apart. Your job as a leader is to try and make sure that they can get the job done, and you might have to step in to manage the personalities along the way. As a leader, you might have to take on more responsibility to try and reduce the time those employees spend interacting with each other, but you cannot resolve their personality differences.
- As a leader, you have to understand that it is highly likely that someone will always be upset with you. This is the hardest thing for me with my job and coaching, especially with my personality type. Anytime you make a decision, it impacts multiple people, so you cannot make everyone happy. Looking out into a room when you’re speaking and seeing negative body language, can be entirely deflating and infuriating if you let it. Overhearing people discussing a decision you made that they do not agree with can trigger emotions that suddenly can make you want to take things personally. While it can be your goal to be respected, trusted, and well-liked by everyone you lead, if you become obsessed with making sure that everyone is happy all of the time you will never find happiness yourself.
- As a leader, you have to find a way to combat the loneliness and isolation. Like the saying goes, it’s lonely at the top. Usually, a company, business, or team only has one or two leaders on site. That means that literally nobody you see every day understands exactly what you’re dealing with. No matter how well you can try to explain something to somebody, they cannot understand the complexities of the personalities and people involved. It becomes so difficult to find people to confide in because nobody really understands what you are dealing with each day. Therefore, as a leader it is essential to make sure you have ways to ensure self-care for yourself. That self-care looks different for everyone, but it is so important as a leader, because if you don’t take of yourself the problems and stress of the job will literally make you become a person that nobody wants to be around, including yourself.
- As a leader, you cannot project your problems onto others. The entire reason you were put in this position or chose to be there is because you are willing to do the tough tasks that others might back away from. Therefore, you need to understand that others don’t want to hear about your problems. If your self-care is like mine, having a good circle of fellow coaches or leaders to hang out with is invaluable. However, use that time to get away from the problems at work. Time away from work should be just that. Your friends are willing to help with tough situations or have a good laugh while you vent over something that has got your frustrated, but that is not how they want to spend all of your time together. The same goes with your wife and family. Nobody wants to hear about your work problems all of the time. Everybody has them, so if you’re always complaining about your job to them, what kind of leader are you? As a leader, what would you say to someone that was constantly complaining about their job? You’d probably tell them to go find another one, so if you really feel that negatively about your job or position, be a leader and go find another one. Cherish the time you have with family and friends, don’t ruin it by droning on about your problems. Use the time away from work to not think about work.
- As a leader, don’t make your employees think about work when they’re not there. I have a couple of simple rules that I force myself to follow: Don’t send of respond to emails outside of work hours. As an ISFP, I need that time to myself to recharge. I work extremely hard while I am at work so I don’t have to work hard while I’m away from work. While that may not be the case for everyone, respect their time away from work, and ask them to do the same for you. I can respect the fact that others are working outside of the workplace and normal hours, but they should respect the fact that you don’t. It doesn’t mean you have the right to ignore their issues, so you better be prepared to address them when you see them at work the next day. Conversely, understand that if you’re sending work emails outside of work hours, you are increasing the likelihood that your employees might feel stressed outside of the workplace. You’re invading the time and space that they need to recharge and come in ready to produce and be in the right frame of mind. No matter how important or innocent that email might be, you’re cutting into the downtime of your employees that we leaders tend to crave and complain that we do not have.
- As a leader, understand that you will always be viewed differently than everyone else. One of the most difficult things for me is a leader is losing the workplace comradery that most people crave. It is pretty rare that you get to dig in on something as a team when you’re a leader, so it can be difficult to share who you really are with others. Your complaints and sarcastic jokes will be analyzed and weighted more heavily than others. People will hesitate to overshare with you, because…well, you’re the boss. No matter how much fun you might want to have with employees at work or outside of work, you have to understand that people will always view it as the boss is watching. Conversely, you are always being watched. How you engage with everyone is always being scrutinized and evaluated. Even if you don’t have the time or the temperament to deal with something, you need to make the time and handle it appropriately. If you blow people off or treat them rather flipantly because you’re too busy, guess how you’ll be treated when you need your employees to do something for you. Your actions are held to a higher standard, and even more importantly are your reactions.
- As a leader, you get paid to do the things that others don’t want to do. Life isn’t all about money, especially in education. However, I always tell people that more money means more responsibility. As a leader, you need to recognize that and step up to earn that extra money. All employees have to do things that they don’t want to do, which means as a leader you need to do even more of them. At my school, I plunge toilets, take out the trash, get there first to unlock the doors, and get phone calls and texts to handle things in the building when I am not there. All of those things could be asked of others, but then why am I getting paid more than them? Your job is to be available at all times. You never know when someone is going to knock on your door with something you weren’t prepared to handle. You don’t know when a text message or phone call with upsetting news is going to come across your phone, but you’re the one who gets paid to deal with them. As a leader, you need to earn your keep, and when you think you have, you’ll still discover things that nobody else wants to do because they’re not paid enough to do it.
- As a leader, your job becomes a lot easier when you work to develop other leaders instead of trying to control everything. I see some people that spend hours and hours more doing the same job that I am doing. Is it because they do not have leaders in their building to help take off some of the stress, or because they’re not developing them? I believe that leaders can be made under the proper guidance. As a leader, challenge your employees to take on certain tasks. Most of the time, they’ll come to appreciate these opportunities and continue to seek them out. If you become the leader that does everything for them, you will spend endless hours burning yourself out while the building or company sinks. You will have less time to devote to your employees because you’re always working to fix everything, and your employees will never feel empowered to make decisions or take on responsibilities to help you and the business out.
- As a leader, understand that you’re emotions and feelings aren’t important. Good leaders should always be in tune with how their employees are feeling. Good leaders are proactive in trying to resolve things. However, understand that it is going to be a pretty rare day when someone checks in on you. As a leader, it is your job to hide your emotions and feelings, that is what makes you a leader. On top of that, when someone will ask you if you’re okay or how things are going, it is your job to give off the impression that everything is fine. Why? Because everyone is watching you. You need to be the rock for your employees. It is your job to be the emotional gatekeeper for them. Don’t get your employees involved in situations and details that they don’t need to know about because it will weigh them down. That is your job as the leader; take that burden for them. Some people might think that you’re not including them in things, but you don’t need them to get emotional or burdened by things that do not directly impact them. Therefore, as a leader you are often walking around with emotional baggage that others are not aware of.
- As a leader, take advantage of time. The instinct as a leader is to try and resolve every issue as quickly as possible. However, one thing I have learned is that in a lot of circumstances, time is on your side. It is human nature to voice our concerns and displeasures in the moment, so we often feel compelled to combat or resolve those issues immediately. Yet, a lot of times when people voice their displeasure it is their way of easing their stress in the moment. Yes, they have something that they want resolved, but giving them time to think about things and get space from their initial emotions can often lead to them realizing it wasn’t as big of a deal as they thought it might be. As a leader, this doesn’t give you the right to ignore people when they’re upset, but sometimes just letting them express their concerns is all they need. Some situations need and require action, some just need someone to listen and understand their concern. This is another reason to try and avoid responding to emails outside of work hours. Concerning emails sent during the workday should be addressed face to face, and the ones sent outside of work hours should be addressed face to face the next day. Oftentimes, the emotions since the email were sent have changed. Responding to that email in the moment with your own emotional response will often just lead to an escalation of tensions, instead of allowing others to calm down and get some space from them. For employees it can be very discouraging to not get a response immediately to a situation that is important to them, but that time waiting gives them a chance to further evaluate the situation, something they may not have done completely when sending that initial email. Take your time to resolve issues, and you’ll probably find that you get better at resolving them the first time.
- As a leader, learn from your mistakes, you’ll make plenty of them. When you’re a leader, you are often learning as you go. The problem is that when you make a mistake it is usually magnified more than others and for all to see and discuss. The differenence between a good and a bad leader is how you handle that mistake and if you repeat it again. There have been a lot of situations at work or coaching that have stuck with me. Situations that I wish I would have handled entirely differently in the moment, but have shaped me to be who I am today. The previous 10 principles have been shaped by my mistakes and lack of self awareness. While I strive to be great, I have to be aware that I am going to make many more mistakes. Great leaders own up to them. Don’t hide them from your staff, address them. Employees need to know that you’re human, and they need to know that you’re willing to admit when you made a mistake and learn from it. Setting that example will help them do the same.
Some people believe that leaders are born not made, but I am the other way around. I believe that everyone has leadership potential. Looking back at my life, I was a follower growing up. I did things that I knew weren’t right just to avoid the conflict among friends. However, I also did a lot things that took incredible boldness and a fearlessness of consequence. While I never envisioned myself being in a position of leadership in the workplace, it is a challenge that I am getting used to. I have had to stop typing multiple times because of messages concerning our building, but that’s what comes with being a leader. Maybe some of my staff will read this, but as a leader you can’t hide from these things. Go ahead and Google articles on leadership or walk the aisles of Barnes and Noble. There are endless offerings and opinions on what makes a good leader, which goes to show that there isn’t one perfect way. I have rarely read any of those articles or books, because what works for you doesn’t always work for me. However, when I know or meet someone that I respect and I’ve seen had success as a leader, I am always looking for something I can take from them. My hope is that you can take something from me. I don’t know if I’m a good leader or not, but I trust the positive input from those around me. Whether you’re an experienced leader that is struggling in a certain area or a former student or player that is just entering into your first leadership position, I’ll leave you with this outlook: The waters are rarely calm as a leader, but if you learn how to navigate them you’ll find yourself willing to accept all sorts of other rewarding challenges in life.
One thought on “Keys to Successful Leadership”
As I mentioned this week, what makes our building different is our leadership. What makes coming to work exciting, challenging, and a safe place to try new things without fear of reprimand for failure of an idea tried. You do lead my example and have made me a better leader.