Harold Hillman: Have you done a WOF on your leadership?

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You may want to change your spark plugs for the 2017 road trip. Photo / 123RF
You may want to change your spark plugs for the 2017 road trip. Photo / 123RF

This year's road trip. Imagine that you're preparing to take your family or friends on a lengthy road trip across the country. You would never dream about doing that without first checking your car over to make sure that it's in tip-top shape. After all, you have precious cargo on board.

In the case of a WOF, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure. That applies to any upcoming road trip. And that should certainly apply to your leadership - at work and in life.

Well here you are, about to embark upon another road trip called '2017.' Although the destination of December is always the same for each trip, the annual path - with its unique twists and turns - is inevitably different.

The one thing these annual road trips have in common is the challenge to keep yourself fuelled and focused - especially once you start to rev your engine up to maximum speed. Before February is here and you switch into second gear, pull over and do a very quick WOF on your leadership for this year's road trip.

Leadership is not about rank or position, so this WOF applies to anyone who goes to work each day trying to make a positive difference. But it is especially important if you do lead a team, most of whom are hoping that you had your leadership spark plugs checked before you came back to work this year.

There are five leadership spark plugs that you should check in this WOF. When firing on all cylinders, these sparks can ignite performance that will make a huge difference to yourself and the team when you hit that long stretch of road mid-year.

These five spark plugs are based on the leadership practices by Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner in their fifth edition best-seller, The Leadership Challenge. Ask yourself how prepared you are for the leadership challenges that 2017 will bring your way. Of the five leadership practices, which spark plugs do you need to change now....before the pace picks up?

Spark plug #1: Model the way

If we were to follow you around with a camera all day and then review the tape at the end of the day, what would your actions say about those things that you truly value?

If you value empowerment, then why are people constantly seeking your approval? If you value diversity and inclusion, then why don't you ever ask people for their opinions? If you value balance in life, why are you always at work? Don't say that you value authenticity when you require everyone to be just like you.

The biggest derailer for any leader is hypocrisy. Sometime the actions that people see from us don't match up with the words that we use to describe what we believe. It's often not intentional. In fact, you may be largely unaware of the incongruence in yourself. But other people see it. And it does have an impact on your credibility and whether people are willing to trust you.

Before you accelerate into February, be clear about those principles and values that define who you are - as a person and a leader - and then stay within those lanes on your journey, rather than swerving all over the road. This particular spark plug goes to the heart of your character.

Spark plug #2: Inspire a shared vision

This spark plug is important when you are driving up steep hills or veering around treacherous curves. Or even when the road has gone on for months, seemingly endless, and everyone is asking, "Are we there yet?"

Dreaming comes with its physical and mental benefits. The REM stage of sleep, when we dream, is the most vital for rejuvenation. The reason we daydream hundreds of times a day is connected to the stimulation required by the brain to recharge. When it comes to your leadership, do you dream enough about your own future? If you lead a team, do they have any idea what your dream is for them?

When people get stuck in the trenches and fatigue starts to set in, you should be able to articulate a picture of the future that motivates everyone to push through to get there.

You don't have to be the team leader to play this role. A flat and deflated team is usually one without a vision. It has stopped dreaming. The same goes for a flat and deflated person. In 2017, keep your vision clear and focused.

Spark plug #3: Challenge the process

This leadership spark plug is often the most difficult to change, largely because it means that you have to be willing to challenge your own thinking. The biggest obstacles to change are pride, ego and status, which can block your ability to be objective about what's working and what's not.

Be open to challenge in 2017 - from yourself and others. Be known as a leader who invites the team to explore the assumptions that sit under your decisions, where there may be different ways to approach a problem or opportunity. It is not a sign of weakness to modify your thinking to get a better result. It's called evolution.

If you lead a team, make it easy for people to challenge the status quo. And if you're on a team, ask yourself when it was that you last disrupted the peace to get to a better solution. Without challenge, you and the team will stagnate. It is vital that you change this plug regularly.

Spark plug #4: Enable others to act

A leader creates the conditions for the team to be successful. In today's workplace, people are most engaged when you let them do what they do best - in a way that plays to their strengths.

Do you encourage your team or fellow teammates to speak up and have a voice? Do you help people to understand their strengths better and coach them on how to apply their talent? Do you move obstacles and impediments out of your team's way - so that they can have clear sight on their vision?

Empowerment is more than just a fancy buzz word in business speak. The word is actually brought to life when you enable others to act on the talents you hired them for.

If your definition for leader is 'being the busiest person on the team,' it is time for you to change this spark plug. A leader helps to build capability and confidence in others. It is difficult to do this if you can't let go.

Spark plug #5: Encourage the heart

This fifth spark plug is one that is often overlooked during the WOF, primarily because we tend to assume that people know how much we value them. When you take this spark plug for granted, people will begin to see signs that your emotional intelligence (EQ) is dropping. You owe it to yourself to not let this happen.

EQ is about knowing what needs to happen, when it needs to happen. Strong coaches have strong emotional intelligence. You know when a person needs a pep talk. You can sense that the team needs to be recharged about its purpose. When a fellow teammate is struggling with confidence, you know intuitively which personal story to share to help get them back on track.

Jack Welch was famously known for his analogy of a leader as a gardener. Welch believed that a leader's role was to provide the nutrients required for the plants to grow bountifully in the garden. This requires you to provide water, sun light, the best nutrients - and to remove any weeds that are limiting their growth. It's no different with people and teams: they require nourishment.

Don't forget the pit stops. Remember to pull over for quarterly pit stops. Change the plugs, fuel up, check the tyres, clean the windows, adjust the mirrors, and fuel your passengers. A real pit stop in a race takes about 7 seconds. Give yourself a bit more time than this to personally reflect - and get feedback - on how well you have 'sparked' on the five leadership practices.

You wouldn't put your family on a treacherous stretch of road without a WOF to ensure that they are well-prepared to face into any challenge. Well, think of your team as precious cargo too. No different than last year, your leadership will make a huge difference in whether the 2017 trip goes well or not. Can you really afford to leave this to chance?

- NZ Herald

Harold Hillman is an executive coach and author. He has a Master's Degree in Education from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh. Previous roles include Chief Learning Officer at Prudential Financial (New York). Hillman came to New Zealand in 2003 to join Fonterra and is now the MD of Sigmoid Curve Consulting Group, where he coaches business leaders and executive teams. He is the author of two books: ‘The Impostor Syndrome’ and ‘Fitting In, Standing Out.’ Visit www.sigmoidcurve.com or www.drharoldhillman.com.

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