Great performers don’t always make great leaders. Need proof? Just look to the sports world. Wayne Gretzky, Isaiah Thomas and Kevin McHale -- all legendary athletes whose on-the-field success didn’t translate to storied coaching careers.
Leadership, it turns out, is its own distinct set of skills -- skills that can be cultivated and developed, just like any other. To paraphrase the great Vince Lombardi, leaders aren’t born, they’re made. And it all starts with the right mindset.
More than anything, leadership is just that -- a state of mind. It’s the lens through which you see the world and the beliefs you bring to all your interactions with your team.
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So how do you know if you have the leader’s mindset? Here are the seven telltale signs that you have the right frame of mind to be the leader your team needs.
1. You stop craving credit.
I’m not saying you defer it. I’m saying you literally stop craving it altogether. For leaders, credit becomes increasingly unimportant over time. In its stead, a desire to do the work you were meant to do, to the very best of your ability.
To a large degree, great leaders separate outcomes from their activity entirely and derive satisfaction from the work itself.
2. You become more cheerleader/coach than player.
You realize it's not about the work you do, but rather it's about the quality of the work that others around you do.
This means you’re not focused on building presentations, creating systems documentation or making sales calls. Instead, you’re focused on creating the best culture and environment for your people to thrive. You’re inspiring and setting a vision that rallies people to become the best version of themselves. You’re removing obstacles from your team so they can do in the most unobstructed manner possible.
Great leaders focus less on doing and more on getting others to do their best.
3. You care about how you make others feel.
You understand that people like you primarily as a result of how you make them feel, and not how you look or how smart or cool you appear to be. It’s fine to have an edge, and it’s good to be bold, but good leaders are keenly aware of how people feel in their presence.
4. You begin to crave criticism.
Leaders are curious about criticism rather than defensive towards it. In fact, the best leaders actively seek it out because they know that criticism means there is likely an opportunity for growth and improvement. Remember, in every critical interaction, there is the potential for growth by the critic, the person being critiqued (aka, you) -- or both!
5. You lead with curiosity.
This is especially relevant when dealing with people. Good leaders always give people the unreasonable benefit of the doubt. You should never lead with assumptions, unless they are positive ones.
Curiosity is a state of mind that not only makes you playful and interested, it ensures you’re always present. Many leaders feel a certain pressure to be perfect. They feel the company looking up to them and like they have to be on their A-game all the time.
But as my recent podcast guest Marcia Reynolds says in her latest book The Discomfort Zone, your team wants you to be present more than they need you to be perfect. Approaching everything with curiosity ensures that this is always the case.
6. Helping your team find their unique abilities is a top priority.
You realize one of your most important objectives is to help people find what energizes them the most, and then effectively aligning resources so they can spend most of their time doing those things (or more likely, that one thing).
This will not only give your team the greatest gift you can give them -- the opportunity to do what they were put on Earth to do -- it will also have wide ranging impact on your organization. When people are focused on their unique abilities, and not wasting their precious energy on things they don’t like or aren’t good at, magic happens.
7. You think about the long-term significance of your actions.
Good leaders are obsessed with timescale and the significance of their activities in the long run. If you’re keenly aware of the impact your actions of today will have on the future, you’re on the right track. You don’t sweat those actions that don’t create any future impact -- like most emails.
You understand that as a leader, it’s most important for you to spend the majority of your time on what will matter three, six and twelve months from now. You hire people to worry about the hours, days, weeks and months. The significance and timescale of your activities will define your impact as a leader.
Extra credit -- You understand that your people want to see you live a rich life.
That is, they want to see that you’re not just a great professional, but someone who lives a full, rich life -- someone who has a great and loving marriage/relationship, someone who is peaceful and tranquil throughout the day (showing mental and emotional health), and someone who takes care of themselves by eating properly and working out.
Why is this important? Because consciously or not, your employees follow your example, and focusing on having a well-rounded life gives them permission to have a well-rounded life as well.
Gone are the days when your employees are cool with their leader being really good at work, but terrible at everything else. That inspires very few. Great leaders take care of their people and themselves. Part of what we provide at SnackNation is the ability to demonstrate to your team that it’s not all about work; things like health, nutrition and well-being not only support performance, but are just as valuable, if not more so.
The common thread.
By now you’ve probably noticed a through line -- it’s not about you.
Being a great leader is about setting your ego aside and putting your team first. It’s about being present in your interactions. Most of all, it’s about looking for ways to help your employees become the best versions of themselves they can possibly be.