While most of us like to think that business success is primarily about hard issues like data and strategy, products and service, marketing and sales, the reality is that it’s far more driven by soft issues (like self-image and attitude) than it is by hard issues. And that’s clearly the case when it comes to leadership development.
The reason I say that is because in order for you to take your business to the next level, you have to become someone other than the person you are today. And why is that? Because, as I often say here at Wired To Grow, for good or for bad, every business is a direct reflection of its senior leader. That means that you are both the primary reason for your business’ success while, at the same time, its primary bottleneck since no business can consistently perform at a level beyond the capacity of its senior executive.
The hard truth for all of us as leaders to confront is that if we were a better version of us, our businesses would be at higher levels than they currently are. I love the way Marshall Goldsmith put it in his classic leadership book, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” The leader you are brought you and your business to the level it currently is, but to get to the next level, you have to go first. You have to change and become the leader your business needs you to be. And once you do that, you’ll “automatically” take your business along with you.
So, how do you become the leader you need to become?
Step I: Let Go of Your Current Identity
Your self-image of you as a leader is made up of a series of pictures (hence, the word “image”) that you have of yourself and who you are (of both what you do and what you don’t do). If you were to be asked to do something outside of the image you have of yourself (i.e. outside of your comfort zone), you would probably say, “No. I’m not going to do that, That’s not who I am.”
For example, let’s say you’re a feeler (in Meyers Briggs terminology), which means that you like people, you care about how decisions affect them, you like to keep peace and not create conflict, etc. However, let’s say you have a long-term employee who’s been underperforming and you know this person is holding your business back, yet everyone likes them, including you. Chances are, even if you know you should let this person go and bring in a more competent person, you won’t (and probably won’t for years). Why? Because in your mind, “That’s not who I am.”
All of us have baggage that we bring to whatever we’re doing (in this case, leading). We all have images of who we are and who we aren’t that we’ve accumulated throughout our lives. Some of these images have come about because of our experiences (our remembered identity). Some of them have come about because of what others have told us about us (our reflected identity). And some of these images have come about because of our innate personalities (our imprinted identity). But regardless of where those images came from, to get from where you are now to where you need to be, you have to learn to let go of those images that hold you back.
In other words, the first step toward becoming the leader you need to become is to let go of the current image you have of yourself as a leader. None of us can move forward by holding on to the past. So, what images do you have of you that are holding you back? Where did you acquire them? And are you willing to let go of them?
Step II: Refuse to Let the “Authenticity Lie” Get In The Way
One of the greatest hindrances to forward movement and change in an individual’s life is a lie that so many people use as an excuse. “If I do X, I’ll be inauthentic. It’s not who I am.” That’s a pure cop-out. It’s a lie. All of our lives have been invented. When we came out of the womb, other than our imprinted identity, we were all a tabla rasa (blank slate). The person you are today has been invented and re-invented multiple times throughout your lifetime.
In fact, I can guarantee that who you were twenty years ago is not who you are today. There are things you’re doing today that you never would have done or been able to do twenty years ago. Moreover, the picture you had of yourself twenty years ago, is not the same as the picture you have of yourself today. So, which picture is the authentic one and which one is the fraud? Buzz. They’re both authentic pictures.
No one becomes “inauthentic” because they’ve chosen to grow/change/improve. This is the essence of learning and personal development. However, you can’t improve or become a better leader if you keep hanging on to the “Inauthentic lie.”
So, where do you tend to say, “That’s not who I am. That’s not what I do?”
Step III: Get Clarity On Who You Need to Become
Obviously, we can’t become something that we can’t see. So, to get to the next level in your business, what kind of leader do you need to become?
For example, if your business is relatively small, chances are you’re still doing a lot of the work of that business. You probably see yourself as the person who does the work of that business, and others as those who help support you doing what you do. If that’s you, then the next level is to transition from being a leader who does the work to being a leader who leads people who do the work. That’s a huge mental shift where your worth and value come from leading others who do the work not from being the one who does the work.
On the other hand, let’s say you have a larger team, yet things aren’t getting executed like they ought to. One reason that might be occurring is because you see yourself as a leader, not a manager. You like to function at 50,000 feet and leave the details to others. Well, if that’s the case, chances are you’re going to have to change the picture you have of what a real leader looks like. Why? Because great leaders aren’t just leaders, they’re leader/managers. Why? Because great ideas that aren’t executed well mean nothing. Leadership isn’t just about designing strategy, it’s also about executing it, which means you need to get a better picture in your mind of what a great leader looks like.
So, what does your next level leader look like?
Step IV: Choose to Be That Person
Once you have clarity on the kind of leader you need to become to take your business to the next level, then all you need to do is simply choose to be that person and start engaging in the behaviors of that person. You are not being “inauthentic” by choosing to be someone other than who you’ve been. There was a day when you weren’t a business owner/entrepreneur/leader. Now you are. You’re not inauthentic because you’ve chosen to be something different. So, just choose to be who you need to be and then start acting that way.
For example, if you haven’t been managing your people well (i.e. you’ve been a dumper vs. a delegator), there’s nothing wrong with you choosing to be a great delegator and developer of people today. If you’ve never been good at vision-casting, there’s nothing wrong with starting today to be a great vision-caster. If you’ve never been a great writer or communicator, there’s nothing wrong with choosing to become a great writer/communicator today.
If you’ve always been a “softie” with your people, there’s nothing wrong with choosing to be a little tougher and demanding a higher level of excellence and execution today. If you’ve been a slow decision-maker, there’s nothing wrong with making a change and becoming a leader known for his/her speed. If you’ve never been much of a planner or project manager, there’s nothing wrong with you choosing today to become a great planner and project manager. If you’ve been a tactical leader all your life, there’s nothing wrong with choosing today to become a more strategic leader.
Whatever you know you need to become, you can become it, starting today—if you’re willing to follow these four simple steps.
1. Let go of your current identity
2. Refuse to let the “authenticity lie” get in the way
3. Get clarity on who you need to become
4. Choose to be that person
If you want to take your business to the next level, you have to become the leader of that size business before your business can get there. So, who do you need to become to lead the business you want to lead?
To your accelerated success!
P.S. If you have some other ideas on how to become a next level leader (or changes you’ve had to make), make sure you add them in the comments section below (or click here >> if you’re reading this by RSS or email).