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Is Leadership a Rewarding Journey or a Long and Arduous Road Trip?

By Pauline Nolte

Pauline Nolte

Leadership is often described as a journey, which conjures up images of an exhilarating voyage filled with adventure and wonder.  Many leaders I know don’t view their roles this way. To them, leadership is a long and lonely drive, during which they must cross vast stretches of open road, navigate rugged terrain, and traverse precipitous cliffs—without a GPS. Whichever way you view it, at times it’s bound to be a wild ride, so pack your bags and hold on tight!

Why are you hitting the road?

Leadership a Rewarding JourneyConsider great explorers like Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco de Gama, Christopher Columbus, and James Cook. Whether it was to find a sea route to get spices from Asia to Europe, to find gold, silver, and precious stones, or to expand their knowledge of the world—they set sail with a spirit of adventure knowing they’d face trials and tribulations along the way. Leadership is a bit like this—we start out as new leaders anticipating the new opportunities and experiences but knowing we’ll face challenging times as well. As with travel, the trying situations we find ourselves in are often the most memorable, character-defining moments.

As Tacy Byham and Richard Wellins highlight in their new book, Your First Leadership Job, you need the right mindset and motivations to succeed as a leader. Power, status, money, fringe benefits, or moving into a role because you feel pressured will not be enough when you hit the roadblocks and speed bumps you are sure to encounter. Leadership isn’t for everyone. It often takes great courage to acknowledge that if it isn’t a path you desire, you can still engage in rewarding work, develop your capabilities, and contribute to your organisation’s success as a high-performing individual contributor. If you’re going to embark on the journey, be honest with yourself about why you are doing so.

You take the high road and I’ll take the low road

I’ve worked with many great leaders, and no two were the same. Often they have achieved similar outcomes in terms of P&L performance, employee engagement, and customer satisfaction, but they took different routes to get there.

As leaders, we need to understand what we are required to do.  Then we can consider how to harness our passions and strengths and develop or, in some cases, just manage our weaknesses. This self-awareness will help us to chart a successful course for ourselves and others. DDI research shows that motivation to lead, receptivity to feedback, and adaptability are some of the strongest indicators of potential to succeed as a leader.

At the end of the day, I believe that most leaders are well intentioned. Leaders rarely set out to cause a multi-car pile-up on the highway—but none-the-less we are human and humans make mistakes. What differentiates good leaders is the ability to recognise that we’ve taken a wrong turn and, like a car with a GPS, recalibrate where we are going and how best to get there.

Don’t get stuck in the roundabout

Who remembers Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s European Vacation as he drives endlessly around the busy Lambeth Bridge in London for hours unable to manoeuvre his way out of the traffic?

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learnt as a leader is to ask for support and involve others.  I know I’m not alone with this challenge.  DDI’s Driving Workplace Productivity Through High Quality Interactions research showed that 55 percent of leaders assessed in Australia over the last 10 years don’t involve and invite ideas from others.

Would Chevy Chase’s character have found himself in dire straits if he had taken the time to stop for some advice and guidance from others before he set out on the trip?

Are we there yet?

Those of us who have been brave enough to attempt long car trips with young children will be familiar with the catch-cry “Are we there yet?” (I suppose this is particularly common in Australia and the US were we can drive for 10 hours without crossing a state line!).

Like children, our team members have expectations, and as leaders we must manage those expectations. The key to this is lots of regular, quality interactions to make sure that people understand organisational, team, and individual goals whilst giving them the opportunity to determine what role they play in achieving the objectives and how they’ll go about doing so.

When on those road trips, we tell our kids to be patient; as leaders we must be patient too. Leadership is not about arriving at an end destination. It can be a lifelong quest to improve ourselves and inspire, motivate, and bring out the best in those we lead.

One of my favourite quotes from Tacy and Rich’s book is that “great leadership takes place every day in the smallest of ways.” What small thing will you do today to bring out the best in one of your team members and take you a step further on your journey?

Pauline Nolte is a strategic account manager for DDI Australia.

Posted: 28 Jul, 2015,
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