Box of Crayons Blog


Have You Become a Better Leader in 2017?

How are your New Year’s Resolutions playing out? Did you have a sort of Bridget Jones’s list (“Resolution number one: Obviously will lose twenty pounds”) or were you more practical in your ideas, setting your sights on becoming a better leader this year?

Now that we’re into Q2, it’s the perfect time to evaluate how you’re doing with your plans for 2017. If you made a resolution to become a better leader, what have you done to get there? What haven’t you done?

Last January, Marshall Goldsmith wrote a blog about making resolutions. In it he says, “To make resolutions that matter, don’t look forward. Look back.” And I love that, because he goes on to describe an exercise in which you pretend to be 95 years old and looking back on your life—and essentially seeing what was important and what wasn’t. What would 95-year-old you tell present-day you? What might you say if you could go back in time to revisit a moment that you could change in order to help yourself become a better professional and live a better life?

There will always be ways to improve as a leader. The best starting point is to look back at how you’ve been working and decide on changes that need to be made. People often make well-intentioned big-picture resolutions — “I want to have more impact” or “I want to lead more effectively.” Yet we live and make decisions in the immediate, and sometimes these broader statements can be too fuzzy, without a clear line of sight into the daily actions we can take to achieve our goals.

Generally, what all resolutions have in common is the need to change and create new habits.

So if one of your resolutions this year is to become a better leader, set your sights on becoming more coach-like by creating a new coaching habit. Easier said than done, sure, but here are a few ways you can achieve your big-picture resolution, in a day-to-day way.

Instead of offering advice, ask questions

For any situation, there’s a solution that’s simple, straightforward and — quite probably — wrong. We tend to easily offer up answers when someone comes to us for advice, but often our initial solution is so quick and simple that it may not actually work. And, in fact, it’s possible that in our rush to give advice, we’re not even addressing the real problem.

Often when someone presents a problem, the real issue they need help with is not the one they’ve brought up. By asking a few coaching questions, you’ll get to the heart of the issue and encourage your colleague to come up with their own solutions.

Ask one question at a time

Once you’ve tamed your Advice Monster and replaced your advice-giving habit with question asking, you’ll be well on your way to creating a new coaching habit that will make you a better leader. BUT, an important step in that process is learning how to ask questions.

Occasionally after we ask a question there is a moment of silence — in which we tend to panic. I can remember working with an introverted employee some time ago, and before I learned how to give feedback, sitting with quiet space was just awful for me. This employee would sit quietly, I would freak out internally and then just throw out info and talk for the sake of filling the void. All around, not an ideal situation for either of us.

Instead of trying to fill that space by asking another question and then another … and then another … wait it out. Ask the question, and then be quiet while you wait for the answer. You’d be surprised what can happen when people sit with questions. My friend Neil Pasricha, author of The Happiness Equation, has a great TEDx Talk that touches on sitting with big questions and which I think has a lot of value when it comes to really thinking about answers.

Instead of always saying yes, say no

There will always be things you have to say yes to, but there are also requests you can turn down. For the rest of this year, don’t set your default to yes. When you do say yes to something, be clear on what exactly that something is and how you will be committed to it. At the risk of repeating myself, I’ll say this: A yes is nothing without the no that gives it boundaries and form.

One of my seven essential coaching questions is the Strategic Question: If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to? Asking employees this is valuable as you work toward becoming more coach-like, but it’s also a question you should be asking yourself.

To put things bluntly, you aren’t helping anyone when you jump in and take over. If an employee comes to you with a request, ask questions to buy yourself some time in which to really figure out if and how you can help. Asking questions also keeps you curious. Say yes a little more slowly for the rest of this year.

For some of us, saying no can be really hard (I can picture my colleague who manages my calendar just glaring at me here). So work out ways to help yourself say no. For instance, I’ve removed the choice in some cases. I hired someone to take care of our sales so that I’m no longer on the phone doing that (which means I can’t say yes to something I shouldn’t).

Rather than getting better at saying no, I’ve really just handed the decision over to someone else. Find your way to say no.

One of the best ways to change your behaviour is to change your environment so that it allows you to do that — if you don’t want to eat ice cream anymore, don’t have it in the house.

Keep asking questions

If you fall into the habit of asking questions, you’ll become more coach-like, which will ultimately change — for the better — the way you lead. One secret to great leadership is great coaching.

Changing your habits step by step will help you create a coaching habit. That process will look something like this:

Ask a question … instead of offering advice.

Wait for the response quietly … instead of asking another question.

Then ask another question (the best coaching question in the world is “And what else?”).

Stay curious and think about your answers … instead of automatically saying yes to a request.

Ask another question.

You’ll find that the more questions you ask, the more options you’ll receive, and the more empowered your employees will become. By creating a coaching habit, you will become more coach-like and ultimately a better leader, which means that you will have successfully fulfilled your resolution, while also having more impact at work.

Hurrah! Here’s to the rest of 2017!

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