As a coach and working within many different types of businesses I have the opportunity of interfacing with clients who lead the likes of projects, teams, departments or divisions. While they are in these positions because they are seen as having the skills required to accomplish the goal, they often bring to that job certain personal habits and methods that actually inhibit the very success they work to achieve.
Dede Henley, in an article contributed to Forbes on-line site pertaining to ‘sabotaging your leaderskills’, used the term ‘auto-pilot’ to describe reactions and actions we have to things that, in after-thought, we wished we had handled differently. Many of these types of things may
have been okay or even acceptable in a previous role. However, now, as leader, they tend to be counter-productive and actually work against us through the negative impact of and interpretation to them by others. Henley sees leadership as being “about staying awake and aware of your automatic ways of responding and reacting, and then course-correcting quickly.”
Being willing to put ourselves under a periodic microscope as a means of self-evaluation is a way for us to become sensitized to the ‘auto-pilot’ things we do and thus in some cases, the things that we realize we want and need to change if we are to be seen as an effective and respected leader. Our curiosity to examine our own methods and practices is certain to uncover areas that we come to realize are not serving us well and thus, are in need of change. Just as Ms. Henley indicates, we all can pretty easily identify a reaction we have or action that we do in an auto-pilot mode that is counter-productive to our goals. Some of them she identifies and that I see in working with coaching clients are:
- Acting Politically – doing things in a way that others will find to be politically correct which often not the way something needs to be handled or accomplished
- Directing Upset Toward Others – rather than accepting your own role in the situation look to place blame or responsibility to another
- Sarcasm – This is something we may use to make light of a situation however it is often at the expense of others regardless of the laughter it might create
- Domination – using one’s leadership position to ‘order’ others to do what you tell them to do when you tell them to do it. Intimidation is one outcome. Cooperation and loyalty is not
- Playing Favorites to Gain Your Allies – The desire to build one’s own team of loyalists who support whatever you do. A willingness to gossip or share things with the ‘inside’ group
- Work to Break-down Rather Than Build Up – This is often a means of reinforcing your position to others and reminding them of you being the boss
- Withdrawing When Things Get Tough – After all, as the leader one can avoid rather than confront and resolve challenges. This may feel better, however, it doesn’t earn respect and enthusiasm to follow.
I’ve had discussions around ‘auto-pilot’ behaviors with some clients who, when pointed out, are able to recognize them. Thus at that point we are able to work together to tackle them one by one in order to bring about the desired changes. However, I also work with others who seem very surprised to see their actions as such as being responsible for creating challenges they face in successfully executing their leadership responsibilities. What they lack is self-awareness and without this it is unrealistic that we can bring about the desired and needed changes to things someone doesn’t realize. The question then becomes how can we become more self-aware as the first step? Here are a few ‘tools’ aimed at enhancing our ability to see ourselves as we, in fact, are in total:
- Be very honest with yourself about who you ‘really’ are and in doing so also become more of a genuine person. As such you allow others to see you as ‘this’ person.
- Accept ourselves as being someone who possesses both strengths and weaknesses. Some in leadership positions seeprojecting themselves as such a ‘real’ person is something they can ill afford to admit to or display. In fact, it does just the opposite and earns the respect of those looking to you as a leader.
- Be curious to explore our own behaviors in order to become sensitized to how we act in our role and how others may be perceiving us. Curiosity is a great starting place.
- Take the bold step of asking others to evaluate you personally and as a leader. You might say this takes ‘guts’ and I suppose in some way it does however it also demonstrates ones’ strength as a person open to receiving and acting upon such input to become better at the job she/he has.
- Demonstrate your own confidence allowing you to admit to being someone having both strengths and weaknesses and you will find followers who are willing to do the same. A team made up of ‘these’ people will soar in terms of what they accomplish as a unit.
Whether someone must first develop self-awareness before they can even recognize they are operating on auto-pilot
makes little difference. Ultimately our effectiveness as a leader is related to executing our responsibilities in a way that inspires other to want to follow the lead. This does rely on our willingness to self-examine followed by various steps we can take to gain more control over what we respond to, how we do it effectively and in the end, lead others who are inspired to work together toward the collective, winning goals.
Henley puts it this way: “Before you lose your cool again, take a moment and figure out what you do when you go on auto-pilot. Then, take a deep breath, count to ten, and step back into leadership and choice. You will naturally find a more empowering response to what is in front of you. This is an act of leadership and self-mastery.”
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