If there’s one more thing to add to the list of things that will never go away (right next to death and taxes), it’s leadership challenges.
The good news about challenges is that they “grow” you. Challenges are full of inherent uncertainty and the beauty about uncertainty is that it provides two things. First, you can only find clarity from uncertainty. You can’t become anymore uncertain as this would be akin to receiving an “F” minus on a test–you can’t, because you already failed and you can’t fail any worse (that’s some truthful cynicism for you). From uncertainty sprouts certainty.
Second, uncertainty affords opportunity–the opportunity to take this newfound clarity and turn it into something manageable, something momentous and something that will make you a better you. And of course if you choose to ignore a challenge altogether then you’ve still “grown” albeit not in a direction for the positive.
So, with the value of challenges clearly outlined above (ahem), let’s talk about four leadership challenges that never seem to go away. After all, one critical component of overcoming a challenge–whether it be leadership challenges, team challenges, family or personal challenges–is becoming aware of it.
Here are four leadership challenges to overcome once and for all:
1. Succumbing to “easy.”
Ever notice how it’s always the easy choices in life you need to worry about? When you avoid a difficult conversation with a colleague because it would be uncomfortable, the problem persists and life gets harder.
When you choose not to collaborate with the team or raise junior members so they can solve the problem simple because it’s faster for you to do it yourself, you find yourself frustrated and overwhelmed with tasks, and life gets harder.
When you decide to quit your exercise routine—or worse, never even start one—because “there’s just not enough time,” you lose that time to recharge and subsequently show up to work less of what you’re capable of, and life gets harder.
Easy choices are just that—easy—but they can also yield difficulty. Leaders who choose easy do so because they’re either uncomfortable with themselves or they simply haven’t adopted the hallmark of a great leader: making difficult decisions.
2. Shifting from me to we.
The individual has always been the main focus in western culture. There’s the ideal (and illusory) image of leaders—of individuals—who are so “great” that they inspire, they transform and they motivate others to achieve great things. However, while it’s true that somebody has to get the wheels turning, sustaining momentum doesn’t happen without the collective efforts of many. In an internet of everything (IoE) world, you can’t not be part of a larger system. Organizations that divide their functions into silos face repeat challenges of communication and decision making that will not disappear until those individual silos—the “me’s”—learn how to cross-pollinate, share information and align themselves toward a shared purpose where they realize that “we” is stronger than “me.” Team performance drives business performance, so forget about me. Focus on we.
3. Feeding the “action addiction.”
I once heard a senior executive (a president, in fact) balk at the concept of having a daily meeting for an hour. He didn’t think that reviewing current initiatives amongst the team, disseminating information and highlighting the company’s most important priorities was worth the time. Instead, he thought he’d provide better value in producing reports and executing project tasks. (This was also the part where my eyes widened and the expression on my face read, “Wow, where do we begin with this one?”)
The leadership challenge here wasn’t only in making the mental shift from me to we but also moving away from what I call the action addiction. The culprit of the action addiction is dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that activates for reward-based behavior. So, when you perform a behavior and feel a sense of pride, power, security, acceptance, approval or any of the other “things” that motivate you, you also get a generous hit of dopamine that makes you feel good. Repeat that same behavior over the course of a day, week or month and you begin to see how the behavior—the action—in question becomes addictive.
The takeaway here is that it’s easier to focus on the tactical rather than the strategic. Tactical behaviors such as answering emails, working on a presentation or having a meeting provides immediate feedback (i.e. dopamine) because you know just how much work you’ve put into your project and it feels like you’ve accomplished something. Just don’t confuse being busy with being productive.
4. Conflicts of priority.
One of the biggest challenges that leaders–and anybody, for that matter–have is finding the time to accomplish everything they need to. The thing is, when you really boil it down it’s not time that’s the problem. Time doesn’t change. We all have the same amount of time in the day yet some people simply produce more and manage more. We don’t manage time, we manage ourselves. The problem, then, is unclear priorities.
When “everything” is important, nothing is. If project XYZ is continually placed on the back burner then there’s probably a reason. It’s simply not a priority. So, pay attention to your decisions and look for patterns. What is continually pushed away or avoided? What might be the reason? For leaders to optimize their own effectiveness they need to focus on what they—and only they—can effect (change) and affect (influence). Focusing on anything less is suboptimal (and a waste of time).
What are your leadership challenges? I’d love to hear them in the comments section below.
Jeff is the author of Navigating Chaos: How To Find Certainty in Uncertain Situations and former Navy SEAL.
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