Practical steps to take your leadership to new heights
Thursday, January 16, 2020
Being a transformative leader — more than just a good leader — takes a lot of work. Many leaders try to emulate other successful leaders, and they often end up getting stuck in a rut. However, according to Doug Conant, building a sturdy and firm foundation is the key to enduring success as a leader.
Conant is the founder of Conant Leadership and has served in the senior ranks of leadership for various companies over 20 years, including as president of the Nabisco Foods Company, CEO of the Campbell Soup Company, and chairman of Avon Products. He is also author of “The Blueprint: 6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights,” which will be released on March 4.
We asked Conant to share some of his tips with MultiBriefs readers.
What does it mean for leaders to get “stuck?”
Conant believes that leaders are overwhelmed by expectations. “They face a deluge of competing priorities and unprecedented complexity; they are expected to deliver competitive results, they have an unending to-do list, they have an unceasing roster of personal commitments, and they often have a litany of unfulfilled goals and aspirations on top of everything else.”
Trying to balance everything while also taking their leadership to the next level is difficult for even the most experienced leader and is especially daunting to new leaders or those who aspire to grow in a managerial role. “Most of these leaders want to do better, they just don’t know how; they struggle to ‘shoot the lights out,’ because they can barely even find the time to turn the lights on.”
Another issue is that some leaders tend to be high-achieving perfectionists, and Conant says they don’t want to engage in a change process unless it can be executed perfectly. However, he says perfection is an unattainable myth.
“To get unstuck, leaders need an approach to their leadership development that is incremental and empowers them to make small changes — a process that celebrates progress rather than perfection and helps leaders get better even in the midst of their insanely busy lives.” If you take a small-step approach, he says you can get a little better immediately, while also setting the stage for continuous improvement.
The first step to lifting your leadership to new heights
“The first step is to reflect on your experiences and harvest those insights to envision your boldest dream of life and leadership success,” Conant says. He acknowledges that you probably won’t get it exactly right on the first try — but that’s OK. “The beauty of embracing an incremental approach to leadership is that you get better over time,” he says. “You’re permitted to make missteps and move from messiness to increased clarity, improving consistently.”
And if you want to be effective at envisioning, he says you have to understand this leadership truth: “Your life story is your leadership story.”
If you try to compartmentalize and have a work identity and a personal identity, Conant says managing this tension is yet another task on your list of duties and responsibilities.
“The key to envisioning and unlocking better leadership — leadership that can influence others and change the world — is found through a clear-eyed exploration of you — the real, true you,” he says.
But to envision the kind of leadership that is a true expression of who you are and what you believe, Conant says you need a tested process that helps you reflect on, explore, and integrate your life story and your leadership story. “Then, you are better able to merge your two selves, becoming one high-performance unit — equal parts effective and authentic.”
He has led thousands of people and coached hundreds more, and says it’s vitally important for leaders to develop a sturdy and secure foundation. “This foundation must tether you to every facet of your unique personality and skillset; this lays the groundwork for enduring success that can thrive in the face of adversity.”
Leadership classes and case studies can help you, but remember that they often help you emulate the leadership approach of someone else. “However, building your foundation empowers you to lead like only you can. That’s the trick to producing extraordinary results in life and in leadership.”
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