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I DID IT MY WAY?




The famous song recorded countless times by crooners of multiple generations idealizes the one who “did it my way.” But great leaders know that truly significant and exceptional leadership means not always getting your own way.


Now the truth is that leaders act. In the face of ambiguity or uncertainty, they step up to the plate and take charge when needed. If no one else is directing or planning how to accomplish the goal, real leaders do whatever is necessary to move things forward or to prevent dropped balls and causing a mess.


But a problem develops when the bias for action is so strong that leaders take charge when they don’t need to. Leaders who feel a compelling need to be in charge are motivated differently than good leaders who have a bias for action.


A leader can falsely believe that without them things won’t happen. The bias for action becomes a persuasion that only I know the right actions to take. Taking charge when the situation calls for it is very different from the need to get your own way. One is an act of leadership. The other is an act of control and domination. Leaders with a deep-seated need to control situations and take charge are often uncomfortable when they are not directing action. They have a difficult time following the plans of others, always assuming their own strategies and tactics are better.

Delegation of leadership responsibilities to others is generally a weakness. These leaders have a great need to approve all the decisions. They would describe themselves as a “take charge leader,” but others think of them as someone who has to get his/her own way. Working for that type of leader is exhausting and never empowers.


So, having a bias for action is great. But how does a leader with that bias know if they are actually leading or controlling? The answer seems counter-intuitive. Great leaders are also great followers. They don’t always need to be in charge. They are as comfortable being a member of a team as being the leader of the team. Being a good follower, learning from others, supporting the ideas of others, and taking the direction of others at times builds trust. When team members know a leader can follow as well as take charge, they engage more enthusiastically. Being a great leader and a great follower are both necessary to gain respect.


Some people are unable or unwilling to make this connection. First-time leaders are much more likely to be concerned about making mistakes, so they turn to their team to collaborate and seek regular feedback. However, the longer a person is a manager/leader, the more comfortable he or she becomes with making decisions and having the power that comes with the position.


Travis Bradberry, coauthor of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, says, "It's easy for leaders to get caught up in their own worlds as there are many systems in place that make it all about them … Leaders start to identify so strongly with their leadership roles that instead of remembering that the only reason they're there is to serve others, they start thinking, 'It's my world, and we'll do things my way’.” They hire and fire. Why not?


Leaders must intentionally maintain their integrity as their leadership journey continues. Accountable relationships with the team will be of immeasurable help.


How does a leader do that? Here are three things that will help us head that direction:


Welcome questions, even questions about your authority. To save time, many leaders squash questioning and feedback in order to make decisions quickly. Rather than having a conversation, they shortcut the process and create a culture where clout rules. It’s completely demotivating to the team. Sometimes, leaders squelch ideas unintentionally. You might assume everyone's silence is acceptance, but they might just be afraid to question the leader. People are more likely to engage and support ideas they helped create. Resist the temptation to cut your team out of the process and shut down questions. You are better with them.


Don't circumvent, ignore, or bump your team commitments. As leaders move up in the organization, it’s easy to bump their team down the line. They drop balls of commitment and communication with them. Sometimes it's intentional, but most times, it's an unintended byproduct of higher-visibility work. But you know how you felt when your own manager missed commitments, stepped out of meetings, or canceled much-needed check-ins for something “more important.” Sometimes it's unavoidable. But you must realize that every time you break a commitment with your team, it sends a message that your agenda is more important than anyone else's. You must foster open communication for the whole journey in order to have an environment of trust. You need to be accessible to foster an environment of open communication and trust. Hold yourself accountable to your team. Keep your commitment.


Let them help you – ask the team for help. It can be easy to hoard tasks and be inflexible toward new ideas. Instead of delegating work and giving autonomy, you micromanage and force your way of doing things. You have new responsibilities but don't want to give up the old. You believe your way is the best way, but you come across as an egomaniac, a know-it-all, unwilling to listen and dismissive. You have to be willing to empower your teams and encourage them to think outside the box. You have to relinquish some control and be open to innovation and improvements. You can lose sight of your integrity in pursuit of your own success.


It's counterintuitive, but the most effective leaders are followers who delegate authority, invite feedback and constructive criticism, and put the needs of their teams first. That’s collaboration.


Collaboration is absolutely essential. Few do this well because collaboration means you are giving up something. True collaboration many times does involve pain of some kind. If you are a true collaborator, a great leader, you don't always get your way and might have to give up something. It’s more than unity. Unity is agreement, but collaboration is more about achievement. And that’s what makes leaders and their teams successful.

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