Over the past 25 years, I have been coaching managers and executives, and while leadership styles are continually evolving, the day-to-day challenges have predominantly remained the same. Leadership, at its core, has always been about people connecting with people. To put it another way, it is unbiased emotional intelligence skills that set exceptional leaders apart from less successful ones. The problem is leaders are high-achievement, driven individuals. As a result, they tend to use “results-focused” language and to engage people by solving problems as part of meeting goals and realizing expectations.
Below are the most common challenges we’ve observed in leaders who are struggling. The reoccurring theme that triggers almost all of these issues is a breakdown in communication.
1. Poorly handling high-stakes conversations.
Conflict is a perfectly normal and natural phenomenon of the human condition. Learning how to handle conflict — rather than avoid it — is central to building and maintaining all relationships. Negotiation skills, patience, and a healthy dose of emotional intelligence are the most vital elements of conflict resolution. Handling conflict in your workplace also requires that you remain objective, avoid assumptions and preconceived notions, and be mindful of blaming others. You can take more control of the outcome than you might think by building a reserve of emotional resilience and learning mindful communication skills.
2. Lack of unity among teams.
Another hot-button issue we come across consistently is teams that need to work together more effectively. Gossiping, judging, and office politics plague many organizations, and we find that positive groupthink endeavors work toward diminishing judgment and conflict. A strategy we find particularly valuable in these situations is bringing teams together to share ideas and create a cohesive environment. Examples of these events might be drafting a vision or mission statement, conducting trust-building activities, or writing a team manifesto together. These tasks will help build confidence among employees in most workplaces. Leaders and managers should also consider building upon their “executive presence” (maturity or polish) through coaching or other means, so they are better prepared to form and manage unified teams.
3. Goal and control focus.
For most leaders, their words are goal-oriented, and simply a means to an end. When this type of leader “changes their tune,” they can come across as inconsistent and untrustworthy. The high-achievement individual can interpret others as being less motivated when, in fact, they only wish to be careful, thoughtful, consensus-driven, or methodical. Most teams are highly motivated by positive feedback — and if and when this does not happen, projects are more likely to fall apart, making goals take even longer to achieve. In this case, it can be helpful for leaders to learn to let go of control.
To understand letting go, recognize how much your own attitudes about control affect your situation. Control freaks don’t pause to observe or take note when obstacles arise. They have difficulty trusting others. They are perfectionists who possess unrealistic expectations or harbor an illusion of control when, in truth, they have none. As a leader, you will inevitably spend the time you were reluctant to take upfront cleaning up the mess made by trying to control everything further down the road. Invest time in practices that build emotional resilience. Try not to feel you must control every detail, and be patient with yourself and others. Stay focused on the outcome — instead of the minutiae of daily issues — and become more strategic in accomplishing your objectives. Choose your words carefully and thoughtfully to increase alignment among your team. If you do, you will succeed not with force or perceived power, but with patience and more mindful communication.