Learning and curiosity are intimately linked. When I started to get curious about leadership, it began with powerful questions I asked myself. This naturally led to finding insights and answers – and learning based on my own curiosity was a ton of fun, too! Over the years I have also found, that it’s best not to find just one possible approach, but to look for multiple possible approaches, and combine the insights from various perspectives, to figure out and experiment with my own leadership journey. This lets me find and choose a path, that is in line with my values and feels most true and authentic to myself. And just like all of you can, I’m still curiously exploring and learning every single day.
When it comes to learning about leadership I started with the following questions:
- What would be good for me to know and learn about leadership?
- What kind of leader do I want to be? Who might my role models be?
- What makes a group of people successful in creating the impact they want?
- What skills do I need to know about and practice?
- What might sabotage my ability to show up as an effective leader?
I’ll take you through a part of my journey of learning on leadership and hope that you might get inspired to start your own! Let’s start with that first question:
What would be good for me to know and learn about leadership?
All my life I’ve been a really curious person, trying to learn from others and also thinking about my own insights to solve any kind of challenge present in my life. I started my own intentional learning and research project into leadership, while simultaneously leading and scaling teams. Doing both at the same time, is a great way to learn and immediately experiment with those learnings, watching what the results will be. I was lucky to have been given access to workshops about leadership and coaching many years ago, this definitely accelerated my own learning. Knowing also, that it’s hard to build your own learning journey around something you don’t know yourself yet, I picked a way to learn with somebody who would invite a lot of very successful leaders into conversations and see what kind of ideas and insights would develop from that. This is why I started to listen to Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead podcast and read a number of books her guests had written. I also started to have conversations about leadership with the people around me, to see what I could learn from them. I started paying attention to the many definitions for leadership to see what ideas they transport, each of those ideas is a great way to find a follow up question that can lead to a more rich understanding of the topic. It’s not hard to realize that there are leaders you admire, and leaders who abuse their power in ways that make those around them feel small, judged, threatened or worthless. We get to choose what kind of leader we want to be and to learn our leadership skills accordingly.
What kind of leader do I want to be? Who might my role models be?
We can actually learn a great deal from those leaders we do not want to emulate. The boss who yelled at me and made me feel scared. The leader who told me I’m not trustworthy, incapable and not worth promoting. The leader who fights for their own benefit and keeps other people around them small. The leader who judges and blames and exercises their power through threats and coercion. I met all of them in my professional life and in a way I’m grateful: they showed me how not to do it. It also clarified for me, that I need different role models. If I want to lead a team that feels safe, appreciated, dares to learn from failure, dares to take risks, and ultimately comes up with innovative, new solutions to hard problems that are too complex for one person alone to solve, I need role models who have successfully created massive impact in ways that align with these behaviors and my values. I seek them out and follow them on social media, make time to meet with them if they’re already in my network and find ways to amplify their impact. This also led me directly to my next question:
What makes a group of people successful in creating the impact they want?
The impact part of this question implies clarity about purpose, values, goals, behaviors and actions. Ever since I did the work to actually become more clear about mine, it’s become very easy to start taking steps that bring my life and career in alignment with my values and life purpose. The fastest route you can take to find clarity on your values, inner leader and life purpose is to work with a coach helping you to discover these. If you want me to help you with this, just reach out! Working with a coach will be one of the best investments you can possibly make into yourself, and your initial trial and discovery coaching session is free. If you don’t like the experience working with me, find another coach, that works for you!
The first part (What makes a group of people successful…) in this question is about creating sustainably thriving and high performing teams. How not to do it is pretty clear from the research on how toxic culture is driving the great resignation, which also immediately builds the argument why an inclusive, psychologically safe culture is what people want to contribute towards. People want to be in teams with a learning culture, where team members generously help each other and are great collaborators. These kind of teams rest on a foundation of respect, appreciation, curiosity and joy, spaces that makes it safe for people to show up the way they are and in their full power. In order to learn more about this, I looked at people capable to create those kind of spaces. Which brings me back to a lot of those people in Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead podcast. Leaders who have done their research and speak about purpose, values, psychological safety, courage, trust, empowerment, emotional agility, emotional self-regulation, mindfulness, the science of happiness, inner resources, healthy ways to relate to and exercise power, how habits are formed, how to integrate your shadows (rather than attempting to push them aside), the power of the mind and the power of accessing the inner wisdom of our body. This foundational inner work is something all sustainably effective leaders have seriously contemplated and then practiced. It is the foundation they stand on to successfully create the opportunities and impact they want to see in the world. Which immediately led to my next question:
What skills do I need to know about and practice?
I really like to root decisions like this in science and research. Part of my discovery skillset as a product manager is to know, not to base important decisions, only on hearsay and the opinions of a handful of anecdotal stories. Itamar Gilad has a great way to help you think about the confidence level you may have about a specific research insight, based on how thoroughly you have actually looked into something . Amy Edmondson did solid research to figure out what factors went into creating highly successful teams at Google. Her research findings were about the following five themes:
Every one of those five areas gave me a clue as to additional skills and practices that would help me create thriving teams. It made me unpack the elements of psychological safety and why that doesn’t only “feel good”. It got me to think about what behaviors I want to see, so team members experience dependability and accountability with each other. It got me to experiment with purpose, vision, goal making and OKRs. It makes clear how the values and personal goals somebody holds, as well as the power to think bigger than oneself and for the positive impact you create on the world around you, serve as powerful enablers for teams. Of those five areas psychological safety is by far the most important team success factor the research surfaced. Psychological safety requires trust, vulnerability, inclusivity, generosity, collaboration, and a learning culture. Which in turn means looking at what kind of actions and behaviors I want to see in the team to nurture these. This very quickly leads to realizing that we’re often struggling with behaviors that make us feel vulnerable, ask us to be courageous, or require our presence, curiosity and emotional self-regulation. Skills we as leaders regularly need access to in situations that present themselves in diverse, path-finding, innovative teams operating in complex and constantly changing contexts. The good new is: we can practice the necessary courage, curiosity, attention and presence muscles, the challenge is: we must practice these and if you don’t know how, it will not come on auto-pilot. Which lead me to my next question:
What might sabotage my ability to show up as an effective leader?
There are actually a number of things:
- I might not actually be clear on my own values, purpose, etc… Without that inner clarity and the realization that everyone’s values and purpose are different and equally worthwhile, I’ll really struggle to create a clear direction, and one that an entire team of people can get behind
- I might have really strong saboteur voices in myself that show up in unhelpful automatic behaviors in my team. I may then also not recognize the saboteur voices that show up in my team members and can’t help them cope with theirs.
- I might not be aware how different sources of power can derail an experience of equal co-creation in a team
- I might have unhelpful stress reactions, I may not be aware of my regular stress coping mechanisms, which makes it very hard or impossible to effectively go through emotional self-regulation when being challenged in a team
- Our mindset and limiting beliefs as a team may hold us back. We simply don’t allow ourselves to think bigger yet.
- I may not yet have built my inner “sage” voice and inner resources that preemptively let me ground myself in a mindset, insights and practices that let me access more curiosity, more creativity and more inner resourcefulness when faced with stressful situations.
How can you benefit from my learning journey and start creating your own?
With all of this in mind I have recently created workshop formats that let leaders (or product leaders) curiously explore these concepts step by step. As we learn best, when we’re trying to solve a real team challenge, these workshops are designed to explore leadership concepts with your team. Starting from what your team currently experiences in their day to day work together, and helping your team to systematically build a thriving team experience for themselves from where they are today. I’m sharing the workshop designs (for leadership in general, and for product leadership specifically) with anyone who is interested for free, just reach out and ask for a demo. If you want to accelerate your learning, I can also coach you, or your leadership team to systematically build out the awareness, skills and practices that will result in thriving, psychologically safe teams. With a bit of knowledge, a dose of self-awareness and some easy to do practices everyone can build and lead thriving, highly successful teams. A good coach will help get you there much faster than you trying on your own. That is because a coach will open your eyes to blind spots, help you deal with your inner saboteurs and most importantly help you build the inner resources that let you know about and lead from your own inner power. I have seen first hand what a massive difference coaching made for me as a leader, as well as in my transition to being an entrepreneur and coach myself. We have big challenges to tackle as humanity, let’s work together to learn how to lead well so we can create the impact we want. We as humans need to urgently collaborate on finding and executing solutions for a thriving community of humans on planet earth. This starts with you and the impact you have on those around you.
Photo by Smartworks Coworking on Unsplash
If you would like to explore this more: reach out for a free discovery session with me.
I coach, speak, do workshops and blog about #leadership, #product leadership, #innovation, the #importance of creating a culture of belonging and how to succeed with your #hybrid or #remote teams.
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