Do you consider yourself a manager… or a leader? 

Your answer to that question will likely influence the skills you believe are most important to acquire. 

Managers tend to be more focused on the work itself: the tools, processes, priorities, scheduling, and problem-solving that are necessary to meet deadlines and deliver results.

In contrast, leaders focus more intently on the team itself: fostering communication and collaboration, aligning everyone on strategy and priorities, managing conflict, leading difficult conversations, motivating employees, and building strong relationships between stakeholders.

Both skill sets are important for anyone in a leadership or managerial role. (Or, I would argue, for any other employee in the organization.)

But what’s less obvious is this:

Before we can use these skills to lead others, we must learn to lead ourselves.

(Just like the plant needs to grow roots underground before it can pop above the surface).

After all, the most powerful leadership comes by way of example. If you’re running around with your pants on fire, how can you hope for anything else from your team?  If you struggle to handle conflict, hold difficult conversations, or form productive relationships with your own managers and stakeholders… how can you expect otherwise from your team?

That’s why, as you create your development plan for the upcoming year, you’ll want to focus on the gaps in how you manage yourself before turning your attention to how you lead your team.

Take Your Own Leadership Pulse

As always, the place to begin is by understanding your current skills and behaviors.

Honestly evaluating your own performance can be challenging, but remember that understanding your own strengths and challenges can only help you learn and grow. So, strive to maintain a growth mindset.  And remind yourself that, even if you’re not yet where you want to be, you always have the opportunity to improve.

1.  Set aside some time to consider the following questions. For each question, think about what you already do well — and where you can improve in the future.

  • Do you use a process consistently on projects?
  • How do you manage all the details (tasks, schedules, meeting actions, etc.)?
  • Do you track and manage risks and issues?
  • Do you plan ahead (e.g. for work, meetings, etc.)? 
  • How do you prioritize your work?
  • How do you keep project momentum going?
  • How do you manage requirements and scope?
  • How do you resolve problems on the project?
  • Do you communicate well with others?
  • Do you collaborate well with your team?
  • Do you seek out additional support when you need it?
  • How do you manage conflict?
  • How do you address unforeseen events?
  • How do you build relationships with others (team, clients, stakeholders, your own leaders)?

2.  Once you’ve completed this assessment, look for any recurring patterns or gaps. 

You’ll surely find areas where you’re strong — and you’ll just as certainly find areas that can be improved. Perhaps your communication skills are fantastic, but you struggle to manage your own time and workload. Or maybe you’ve got your own process (and your teams) dialed in and fully optimized — but you shy away from confrontation or have trouble responding to unexpected changes.

3.  Look for high-leverage opportunities for growth. 

Think about how the gaps you’ve identified are affecting your team. What changes can you make in your own self-management that might have outsized effects on your team?

For example, if your team often can’t move forward because they’re waiting on your response or approval, you might discover that small tweaks in your own communication skills or processes contribute a great deal to your team’s ability to hit deadlines.  

Manage Yourself, Manage Your Team

Many of our behavior and reactions become so routine that we barely notice them — but these habits can hide opportunities for great improvement.

By taking time to honestly evaluate how you manage your own work and behavior, you’ll understand better how to set a leadership example that you want your team to emulate.

And you’ll be in a better position to develop the other management and leadership competencies you’ll need to support your team, increase efficiency, and produce better results. 

Next week we’ll talk more about what those core competencies are, so you can make a concrete plan for developing your own skills in the coming year.

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