By Praveen Tipirneni, Quora
CREDIT: Getty Images
You can’t boil leadership down to a set of attributes you need to display.
Pick up almost any book on leadership, and chances are you’ll find a similar prescription for becoming a great leader: change yourself.
Gain more patience. Have more empathy. Become more extroverted.
The problem with these rules for change and growth is they’re too simple. You can’t boil leadership down to a set of attributes you need to display. More importantly, you can’t really expect to change the core of who you are.
Instead of trying to make radical changes in your nature, simply focus on changing your actions. Create a system that works for you, rather than trying to force yourself into a prescribed notion of a what a leader has to be.
If you know yourself well enough, you can take steps to change how you go about leading.
Here’s where to start:
Accept your personal characteristics for what they are.
We’ve all experienced the difficulty of breaking a deeply ingrained habit. It’s hard to stop cracking your knuckles or biting your nails.
Now, think about how difficult it would be to change one of your character traits.
Over long periods of time, altering your personality can be possible. But we aren’t living in a movie or a novel. People don’t have sudden epiphanies that fundamentally change who they are over the course of a few hours.
For instance, there was a time when I wanted to become more extroverted. As a CEO, I’m almost always negotiating. And it helps to be likable–to be easy-going and persuasive–when you’re trying to negotiate with people.
As you probably guessed, I wasn’t able to suddenly change my nature and become an extrovert. What I found was that being extroverted or introverted didn’t really matter as much as my behavior in the specific moment.
It’s not realistic to expect you can truly change into a high-energy person who’s always smiling and chatting. But when you find yourself in a situation where you need to act that way, it’s possible to make the necessary adjustment.
Change what you do, not who you are.
The good news is, you don’t have to become an entirely new person to be an effective leader. You just have to alter the actions you take.
Everything you hear about working with and managing teams is really about “doing.” Getting to know people, caring, listening–these are all actions you can take, regardless of your personality.
Changing what you do doesn’t take much time and effort, but it does require a mindset shift. You have to solicit feedback, try different things to find out what works for you, and then translate that into action.
These don’t have to be massive changes, either. In fact, when we talk about any lifestyle change–getting in shape, eating well, starting good habits–they’re all about repeatedly taking simple steps. The challenge lies in putting yourself in the right mindset to continually take those steps.
For instance, five minutes of jumping rope a day can have a tremendous impact on your health, but getting people to jump rope for five minutes a day is nearly impossible.
In order to find the right frame of mind and decide which actions will improve your leadership, you can look to those who’ve gone before you.
Incorporate other people’s knowledge into your process.
Instead of looking to make a radical change in your personality, your best bet is to spend time learning about other people who found themselves in similar decision-making situations.
I’ve found that one way to do this is by putting down the leadership books and picking up biographies of important or interesting people throughout history. Biographies work well because they give you a chance to think about someone else’s life and extract principles from the examples they’ve left behind. It’s an opportunity to see how people reacted in various situations, how they applied themselves and their talents, and where they found success or made mistakes.
Feel free to choose your own, but I’ve particularly enjoyed biographies of Robert Caro’s take on Lyndon Johnson, David McCullough’s book about Teddy Roosevelt, Geoffrey Best’s account of Churchill, and Walter Isaacson’s books on Steve Jobs and Benjamin Franklin. The more biographies you read, the more you’ll notice your way of thinking and assessing situations begins to change.
You’ll find the different perspectives become a part of you. You’ll get a chance to see the nuances of other leader’s lives and the decisions they made, and eventually, you’ll begin to internalize all of it.
When a situation arises, you’ll have a database of stored knowledge and perspectives from which to examine the issue and decide how to react.
None of that requires you to fundamentally change who you are. It’s about learning from the leaders who’ve gone before and tailoring your actions to best fit the situation you find yourself in.
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