Take a moment and think about your past leaders. Which ones stand out? Then ask yourself, “Why?”
In most cases, I suspect the standouts are the leaders that probably made you feel uncomfortable sometimes. They helped you get to the next level of your career because they cared enough to help you grow instead of simply telling you what to do. They practiced meaningful leadership.
One of my observations about people, including leaders, who want to keep things happy and positive is that sometimes they avoid doing things that are uncomfortable. And, this can stagnate your growth as a leader and the growth of your team.
Meaningful Leadership In Action
Some of you may have heard this story before. However, it’s worth sharing again because it shows how one of my first bosses, Bob Blanchette, took his job of developing my leadership skills as seriously as he did making sure I achieved my measurable goals.
I graduated from college when I was 20, but turned 21 shortly after. There was a recession in Abilene, Texas, where I lived at the time, but I got the first job I applied for: Executive Director of Junior Achievement of Abilene.
Although the office was a branch of the Fort Worth JA office, it was an independent operation. I reported to a local board of directors, fundraised for all of our expenses, worked with three school districts, recruited and trained the volunteers. In short, it was my job to lead a lot of people that were probably a decade or more my senior.
A few weeks into my new job I was faced with my first, but certainly not last, not sure what to do with this situation dilemma. I don’t remember what it was now.
However, I do remember when I mentioned it to Bob, on our weekly Friday call, his response: “I want you to take the weekend and think of three options for this situation. Then come up with the pros and cons for each one. We’ll discuss them on Monday and figure out which is the best option to pursue.”
Initially, I was annoyed. I just wanted him to tell me what to do. I was sure he knew the best solution, and it would have been easier than me thinking through options plus pros and cons. It would have also been easier and faster for him to simply tell me what to do. At the time I didn’t really understand why he was making me go through what felt like a waste of time.
However, Bob knew that it was his job to help me develop my leadership skills. This included feeling confident enough to make decisions that impacted my job and the board of directors. If he had told me what to do, that wouldn’t happen. I’d always be insecure about future sticky situations.
Meaningful Leadership Is About Growing Your Team
Leadership is about more than sharing your wisdom. It’s about imparting it to your team in a way that they learn from you. It requires mentorship. This means taking your mentee through the difficult task of letting them learn something new.
This can be uncomfortable, stressful and time-consuming. However, the stress of being uncomfortable when we learn something new makes us happy according to a 2009 study in the Journal of Happiness.
I learned a valuable lesson from that situation that I have carried through my career — when there’s a challenge, think of three possible solutions, and the pros and cons for each before discussing it with my leader.
This always gave us something to discuss, revise and eventually determine the best option. It also let my leaders know that I was solution-focused not problem-focused.
The best leaders inspire their team members to think about situations from different perspectives. Why?
When people think differently, they will act differently. This doesn’t usually happen when a leader simply issues a command unless the team already understands the reason for it.
Being happier at work involves more than making work fun. It’s also about helping the people you lead to become the best versions of themselves. It’s helping them grow even when it’s not comfortable or easy.
Of course, when someone feels that you care about them, it’s easier to help them grow. When you do this, one day, perhaps you’ll be on their list of meaningful leaders.
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