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Leadership Fitness

What does it mean to be a fit leader? According to ATD (Association for Talent Development), a fit leader is about being on “top of your game.” It’s about having the ability to balance tasks (current and future impacts) while developing your people.

Having worked with many leaders in large organizations such as Google and Boeing, as well as midsize and small organizations, I have noticed the same pattern. The need to continue to develop leadership skills and competencies. Whether you are new to the leadership role or have been in a leadership role for a number of years, there are almost always areas that can use leadership improvement. Not only are leadership skills necessary for effectiveness, leadership traits are also required to become a successful fit leader.

You might have witnessed and/or experienced both fit and unfit leaders. Perhaps you are the leader who feels unsure, persistently experiencing self-doubt, or having the desire to be a better communicator. Perhaps you have seen leaders who do not communicate well, lack confidence, lack execution or follow through. There are many leadership skills that can help you to become the fit leader that you imagined you can be or wish to be. Below are some of the skills that leaders have commonly expressed in wanting to develop:

  • Executive presence

  • Effective communication

  • Self-confidence

  • Decision making skill

  • Removing self-doubt

  • Career advancement

  • Developing others

  • Work life balance

As a coach, I do not typically suggest a specific skill set that my clients “should” focus on. However, as a leadership consultant I would like to add five skills that are just as important to develop for effectiveness in general whether you lead people or not:

  • Giving and receiving feedback

The formal feedback that’s given quarterly or yearly is not as helpful as it is when given informally, consistently, and often. It takes time and many practices to develop skills at a level of high competence. Giving clear and useful feedback is an art form. You must learn to manage difficult conversations. You must demonstrate trustworthiness and safety. Alternatively, asking for feedback is a completely different conversation than giving feedback. As a receiver of feedback, you must be prepared to hear tough feedback. This is truly essential if you want to develop an area or two. It is valuable to know how others perceive you. For example, leaders tend to overestimate their inclusive leadership skills more than the way others see them. So be very specific in your request for feedback and allow the person to prepare, if they need that time. Additionally, there are many fringe benefits of consistent informal feedback besides the opportunity to improve individual skills, such as developing a culture of trust and growth mindset. To read more on giving feedback, click here. To read more on receiving feedback, click here.

  • Managing difficult conversations

According to Matuson (Can We Talk? 2021), there are seven principles for managing difficult conversations at work. Matuson explains that confidence is the first principle and is key to initiating difficult productive conversations. Without confidence, you will tend to dismiss your own instincts for the sake of avoiding difficulties. Confidence does not guarantee a particular result; confidence is about being open to making mistakes and to learning. The rest of the principles are making clarity a priority, demonstrating compassion in professional communication, being curious, preparing to compromise, building credibility, and exercising your courage to initiate tough conversations.

  • Self-awareness

Self awareness is about understanding how you feel. Why and when you behave in a particular manner. It is knowing what makes you tick and knowing how you are generally perceived by others. Psychologists Shelley Duval and Robert Wicklund defined self-awareness as, “the ability to focus on yourself and how your actions, thoughts, or emotions do or don't align with your internal standards.” Many times we are more transparent to others than we think and others also may know about our own blindspots.

  • Emotional Intelligence (EQ: Intra & Inter)

EQ, also known as emotional intelligence, is essential in the workplace when working with others. It’s about having the skill to understand, leverage, and manage your own emotions in a way that acknowledges the emotional experience to communicate effectively, show empathy and compassion, overcome challenges and defuse internal or external conflicts. Intra is about being aware of your own current emotional experience and how it impacts you and others. Inter is about being aware of others’ emotions and how those emotions impact them and you. Ultimately, the usefulness of these types of awareness is to respond internally and externally in the way that works well for you and others.

  • Setting clear actionable goals

It is enormously important to create clear goals. Clarity is essential for our brains and for ourselves. Clarity helps us to find focus and direction. Unclear goals or abstract goals only bring confusion. Confusion will make us susceptible easily becoming overwhelmed. Feeling overwhelmed leads to self-doubt and self-doubt leads to giving up. Therefore, it is critical to create and set clear actionable goals. It is normally easier to conceive a big goal. The next step is to create milestones breaking the goals into small deliverable action steps with a deadline. You could create a 90-day goal or a yearly goal with quarterly milestones. Check in against your milestones and deadlines regularly and adjust if needed.

In summary, developing effective leadership skills takes time and practice. Continued deliberate practice will lead to competency. And lastly, Gallup, Inc., an American analytics and advisory company states that the most important leadership traits that must be embodied by leaders are trust, compassion, stability and hope. I would also add integrity and courage to this list of necessary traits. These leadership skills and traits are important for leadership effectiveness and leadership fitness.

If you need help building your leadership competencies, speak with one of our ICF Certified Leadership Coaches.

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