The moment you take on a leadership role, you’re giving up some privileges you might not even realize you possess. A distance inevitably grows between you and your team members, one which can make leadership much harder and lonelier than most people realize.
In recent posts for the Fired-Up! blog, we covered some of the unexpected, yet unavoidable aspects of leadership, including:
- People expect you to remember: Team members are likely to be hurt or upset when you don’t recall personal information they share with you.
- Things get quiet when you arrive: You’re no longer in the heart of things when you make an appearance at office social events.
- Prepare to be misunderstood: People tend to listen for information that concerns their personal agendas.
- Here comes the free advice: You’ll get a lot of unasked for suggestions and input.
- There is always a score: Even when everything seems to be going great, your team members are always keeping a tally of what you say and do.
- There is always an ask: Even casual conversations tend to involve requests.
When most people realize there’s a price to leadership, there’s a tendency to try to avoid paying that price. It’s an understandable impulse. Leaders might start to feel used when people are always asking for things, and they might get lonely when walking into a room and hearing everyone grow silent. These feelings are completely legitimate.
But, as a leader, you need to be willing to say, “Well, this certainly doesn’t feel great, but pulling the team together is more important than my hurt feelings or frustration.”
When the Bill Arrives
There might be days when you’d rather pull your hair out than field another request or hear another person explain to you exactly what you should be doing. You wish the team members keeping score would allow you an off day to respond imperfectly.
Let’s take the case of free advice. Consider that the people offering it often don’t have the benefit of perspective or context. It’s also easy for them to offer an opinion when they don’t bear any responsibility for the results. You may think to yourself, “I don’t have to pay attention to any of this. I already know exactly what I need to do.”
That’s the moment when you need to stop and reconsider.
As we wrote in our book, Would You Work for You? — The Quest: Discovering the Leader Within, “The authority to make decisions doesn’t exempt a leader from the need to be inclusive and thoughtful with regard to the participation of team members in the process. The practice of gathering additional input, even if the decision appears very clear, will serve to reinforce the strength of the team and position the leader well for future undertakings.”
Leaning into the Discomfort
“Be not afraid of discomfort. If you can’t put yourself in a situation where you are uncomfortable, then you will never grow. You will never change. You’ll never learn.” —Jason Reynolds, author
Lean into your feelings of discomfort. The moments where you least desire input are often the best times to accept it. Instead of shutting people out, gather your team, explain the situation, and encourage them to share their thoughts. Rather than avoiding the conversation, find ways to productively facilitate it. For example, consider including skilled people who you know will mediate and surface helpful suggestions.
Just because you have to pay the price, doesn’t mean you can’t do it strategically.
Expressing appreciation for dissenting opinions might feel counterintuitive, and your ego might protest, but as we wrote in our book, “Taking time to share the rationale for the decisions and how differing positions were considered can be seen as inclusionary. Ignoring the dynamic of perceived winners and losers as a result of the leader’s decisions will quickly place the leader into a situation where ‘factions’ and conflicts can form.”
People Know When It Isn’t Genuine
A true leader goes a step further than merely accepting free advice — they make sure to share acknowledgment with the person who gave it. They’re open and free with their appreciation and rationale, because they know this is the path to building loyalty and trust.
Authenticity matters. Enthusiasm is key. Team members can perceive when you’re only doing these things begrudgingly. If you set out to simply check a box, they can tell.
Paying the price of leadership is neither enjoyable nor fun. There will be times when you really don’t want to do it, when it might feel like having to take a cold shower. All you can do is hold your breath, stand beneath the water, and shiver. But, if you prepare for that price and embrace it with gusto, your leadership will flourish and your team will be empowered to accomplish great things.
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Author, Speaker, and Change Agent.
Chris leads a dynamic team of passionate change agents who are dedicated to partnering with organizational executives to create cultures that inspire, engage and ignite the best in people. Our work is dedicated to harnessing the power of culture to equip leaders, build amazing teams and align operation practices to delighting the customer and drive breakthrough results.