Exploring Leadership Beyond Instinct

StrategyDriven Management and Leadership Article | Exploring Leadership Beyond Instinct

Effective leadership depends not on your ability, but rather on your commitment to change. Your journey as a leader begins with a deliberate decision and continues through personal growth that stretches you to become far more than your natural self.

Rethinking Our Definition of Effective Leadership

Definitions of effective leadership that rely on innate qualities like “influence” and “charisma” are overly narrow. The fact is that leadership skills aren’t natural. To be a leader, you must make the conscious choice to go against the grain.

Think about how people tend to respond. When hurt, they pull away. When confronted, they back off. When challenged, they become defensive. When irritated, they lash out. Though these responses are ingrained in human nature, they often have disastrous consequences for leaders and the people they manage.

To become a great leader, you must identify the natural instincts that get in your way and strive to become a better person. When you change your reactions, you can experience genuine transformation. With enough work and practice, this higher level of behavior can become your new natural.

Effective Leadership Begins With a Choice

If you accept the fundamental premise that leadership is a choice, rather than a natural ability or a position, you must also accept its far-reaching ramifications. The choice to become a leader demands sacrifices and changes that will drastically impact your life and change who you are. Once you’ve made the decision, you can no longer do what comes most naturally.

To ensure you are ready, ask yourself three questions. First, ask why you want to lead. If your motivation is anything other than serving others, nurturing their growth, and assisting them to realize their goals, reconsider your intentions.

Real leadership isn’t about power and prestige. The road of a leader is plagued by tough calls, conflict, doubts, and fears. The downsides of leadership only balance out if you can use your role to serve others.

Next, ask if you’re willing to develop into the role. If you’re not open to examining both your strengths and weaknesses under a microscope, you put everyone under you at risk.

To grow as a leader, you must work diligently to solicit feedback from trusted mentors, reflect on what you bring to the table, and shore up flaws. People love to argue whether top leaders are born or made. While some are born with a greater helping of leadership skills, others hone their abilities, but ability is never more important than the desire for personal growth and development.

Third, ask yourself if you’re prepared for discomfort. As a leader, you’ll be the first to venture into new frontiers, routinely encounter transitions, and help your team adapt to them.

For most, the natural response to uncertainty is anxiety and stress. Consider whether challenging circumstances motivate you to shut down or to innovate novel solutions. It takes work to become accustomed to discomfort, but if you commit to lead, you can rise above that natural trait.

Develop Leadership Skills Through 52 Maxims   

Once you decide to become a leader, only deliberate effort and consistent practice can enable you to rise above your natural instincts. To help you navigate this transition, we compiled 52 maxims — one for each week of the year. Along with each maxim are practical exercises to promote self-reflection and support as you initiate the change,

Essentially, you’ll learn to prioritize your team, facilitate their development, and celebrate their success. You know you’ve arrived as a leader when your team is fully equipped to take your place.

As you grow through self-reflection and trusted feedback, your newfound insight will equip you to confront conflict head-on, welcome uncertainty, and learn from failure. The advantages of going against your nature will become apparent as you inspire trust through transparency, become a person people listen to, explore diverse viewpoints, set boundaries that benefit your team, and understand the people who follow you on a whole new level.

Through the entire transformation, you’ll keep one goal before you. All of your work ultimately achieves the single purpose of leading your team forward. You lead so they can thrive.

About the Author

Joe Judge is co-author of Leadership is Overcoming the Natural: 52 Maxims to Move Beyond Instinct

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