People regularly ask me, “What are the most common issues you see firm leaders struggling with?”
All leaders grapple at times with business uncertainties, personnel issues, economic fears and personal family concerns. But the most chronic leadership struggles have to do with the leader’s self-management. Four self-management challenges stand out:
1. Avoiding discomfort
Most of the avoidance that happens in leadership stems from emotional discomfort. If leaders could learn to regulate their allergy to discomfort, they would care less about approval and perfection and make better decisions.
This is more challenging than it sounds. I wish I had a dollar for every decision I see leaders make that is driven by their need to be liked.
The odd thing is that leaders who make popularity a priority are rarely respected in the long run. Another way to say it: Caving in to the fear of rejection often leads to rejection.
2. Over-preoccupation with enemies
I coach my clients and children to learn how to deal with people they don’t like.
One of my parenting quips is: “By the time we get rid of all the people you don’t like, there won’t be anybody left!”
I often hear family, business and global leaders perpetrating an “eliminate the enemy” mindset. I have two main beefs with seeing people as “enemies”—whether they are business competitors, siblings or “problem partners.”
The first is that such an attitude guarantees a highly anxious relationship. Anxious relationships are much more prone to impulsive decisions and destructive consequences.
The second problem with an enemy mindset is that it feeds my own irresponsibility. As long as the other is the problem, I don’t have to look at myself. In fact, one way to shield myself from responsibility is to make the other the bad guy.
Instead of hyper-focusing on enemies, take a good hard look at your response to the enemies. Self-management in leadership is all about increasing your Response Ability.
3. Seeking the easy way at the cost of progress
I’ve noticed that people who always take the easy way rarely feel good about themselves.
Consider young adults who are “given” jobs and opportunities based on their bloodlines, students who have no stake in their college expenses, business partners who continually avoid discussing uncomfortable issues, lottery addicts, and anyone who takes more than they give for an extended period of time.
Traveling the easy path can be morally and emotionally costly. Sacrifice – a truly noble virtue - becomes unavailable. For those who never taste the sweaty satisfaction of a tough job well done, self-confidence diminishes.
Facing adversity often turns out to be the defining factor in successful firms, marriages, families and societies. Perhaps we should not be so quick to avoid the struggles of life, instead seeing challenges as opportunities.
4. Shallow connections
The biggest challenge of self-management is a leader’s inability to connect at a deeper level with his or her spouse, children, business partners and staff. Much of the distance and conflict that occurs in families and businesses could be greatly eased if leaders knew how to forge deeper conversations.
Leaders I interact with want to do this, but deeper conversations are out of their comfort zones, and they haven’t developed what I call connection capacities.
Connection capacities include emotional awareness, humility (“seeing oneself as one really is”), the willingness to reveal self to others, genuine curiosity about the other, an appreciation for what the other is up against, and the ability to listen.
These capacities are learned neither easily nor perfectly. Few leaders can navigate this path alone. Progress requires focus, and a good sounding board.
The rub? Many firm leaders spend too much time doing what they like and are good at: solving problems, giving advice and cutting deals, while ignoring the importance of deeper connections.
A steady commitment to prioritize connection can shift the tenor of even the most troubled relationships.
But, let’s face it: It’s tough to connect with someone – or to manage yourself - if you are not on the road to knowing yourself.
That, it turns out, is the key to self-management.