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7 Harsh Truths That Will Improve Your Leadership Skills Overnight

This is taking your leadership to a whole new level, again.


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Remember those old and scratchy vinyl records that would skip and play the same thing over and over until you moved the needle? (I know I'm showing my age, play along.)

Well, the Gallup Organization has been playing a tune now for over three decades, one that sure sounds a lot like a scratchy record that won't move forward. You know it well—roughly 30 percent of employees in the U.S. are actually engaged in their work. But here's the part of the song that keeps skipping incessantly: People leave managers, not companies.

We've know this for a while and yet we can't seem to solve the leadership crisis that will result in happy, engaged, and motivated workers.

That's because most people in positions of power don't have a clear understanding of what it truly takes to influence others. You don't manage people; you lead people and manage the work.

Seven Brutal Truths About Leadership

If you find yourself in the precarious position of wondering "where do I stand as a leader," at some point you must face some brutal truths about what it takes to motivate and inspire on a human, emotional, and psychological level.

1. The brutal truth that good leaders will first pump the fear out of the room.

In traditional top-down power structures, bosses will cast a vision and then use positional power and control to move people to carry out the vision. Fear is par for the course as the primary motivator. In today's social economy, servant leaders will cast a company vision and enroll their followers to express their voice as co-creators and co-contributors to the vision. And their first priority is creating psychological safety among their tribes: They pump the fear out of the room and liberate their people to freely collaborate, innovate, and engage.

2. The brutal truth that good leadership doesn't happen without trust.

Every leader needs to ask a very important, look-in-the-mirror, question: "Does my behavior increase trust?" If you are considering elevating your leadership skills, trust is a pillar your leadership should stand on. In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey highlights several trusting leadership behaviors great companies are known for, including:

  • Create transparency
  • Confront reality
  • Practice accountability
  • Talk straight
  • Right wrongs

3. The brutal truth that good leaders are willing to listen to feedback.

Many leaders don't want to listen to ideas, opinions, and constructive feedback from others about their own leadership. For such leaders, cutting themselves off means that they operate in an ego-system, not an ecosystem. A leader who listens well, on the other hand, is open and accountable; they filter out criticism or drama and find the facts in order to respond appropriately to serve the needs of others. They probe and ask questions until they get clarification; they listen to understand—with a focus on the future, not on a rehash of the past.

4. The brutal truth that good leaders are positive, even when things go bad.

Good leaders practice positive thinking. They view stressful situations from a more positive perspective, which takes emotional intelligence. Rather than getting stressed out about a work situation or a recent failure, they look at it as an opportunity to pause, regroup, learn, grow, and bounce back with renewed energy and focus. This can have a profound effect on one's emotional and physical well-being. Leaders who maintain a positive attitude and practice positive thinking experience less stress than those who are pessimistic, narrow-minded, and negative.

5. The brutal truth that good leaders rarely, if ever, procrastinate.

Good leaders are "do-it-now" people. They don't put things off until the last minute, which is a sure way to increase stress levels. Good leaders begin doing what they know they should do, and when they know they should do it. They anticipate problems when issues arise and address them head-on before they escalate.

6. The brutal truth that good leaders put strict boundaries on themselves.

Billionaire Warren Buffett, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, learned a long time ago that the greatest commodity of all is time. One of his secrets to success? He simply mastered the practice of setting boundaries for himself. The mega-mogul once said:

The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.

They say no to opportunities and things that don't excite them, speak to their values, or further their mission in life. They say no to spending time with uninspiring, critical, or negative people who drag them down. They say no to overworking and neglecting self-care and family. They recognize that if they can't take care of themselves, everything else suffers.

7. The brutal truth that leadership, in the end, is really about love.

We often view any notion of leadership and love through the spiritual teachings of historical and religious figures like Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. But another unlikely icon from the past—legendary Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi—didn't mince words in defining how he led with love. He said:

I don't necessarily have to like my players and associates, but as their leader, I must love them. Love is loyalty, love is teamwork, love respects the dignity of the individual. This is the strength of any organization.

Love in the leadership-at-work sense is not a feeling; it's expressed as an "action verb." It's love that shows up in meeting the needs of others to get results, clearing obstacles from people's path, and empowering others to succeed and grow as workers and human beings. It has intrinsic value for both leader and employee. Ultimately, it's this kind of love that defines some of the best CEOs on the planet.

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This post originally appeared on Inc. and was published March 27, 2018. This article is republished here with permission.

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