April 3, 2012

Five Ways to be a Smart Leader

I feel a bit silly here. Since my book was published, I've been writing and speaking a lot about different aspects of leadership but still haven't shared the actual model that was the framework for my whole book!

The SHAPES model shows the interrelated pillars of leadership excellence, inside a context for integrity that translates into success when action is taken. There are too many nuances for a single blog, but I'll start with one element. Since it is intuitive to start at the stop, I'll shake things up a bit and start at the bottom with Senses - being astute or highly aware and present.

How you can be an astute leader

1. Find your own genius - Everyone has something they are great at. We all have a genius within that arises when what we are doing is true to our values, talents and interests. When you find that thing and give yourself over to pursuing it, you can make your own wild success. This doesn't mean fame and fortune - too often success is collapsed with money.

There are many opportunities to succeed that don't necessarily translate into dollars and separating the two will save you a lot of pain and years of pursuing the wrong path. While you can pursue financial gain, there are no guarantees you'll achieve it. In reality, you're more likely to succeed if you stick to what you are great at and love to do. Plus, you'll enjoy the journey versus focusing only on the end result. The sum of our lives is made up of more small moments then big wins. Make them count.

2. Know what's down the road - As a leader, your ability to sense the next best thing is key to getting a jump on competitors. Steve Jobs came up with the idea of the iPad over 10 years ago when tablets and smart phones were still more the stuff of science fiction than viable consumer devices. More than being educated or book smart, market intelligence  - anticipating what people will want and learn to need - is crucial in a world overpopulated with ideas and stuff.

Make time for creative brainstorming and be sure to consider even the craziest ideas. What seems like folly may have the bare bones for a viable and exciting Next Big Thing. Learn learn learn what's out there from a variety of sources, not just industry journals. Open your mind to new experiences. I promise not to mention Steve Jobs again here.

3.  Be focused - We have smart phones, pads, tablets and devices that take up the empty space previously reserved for contemplation and reflection. Our brains are being trained to shift quickly from one thought to another and are being rewired to skim rather than go into detail on subjects. While this serves when you need to digest large volumes of information, it also keeps you from calming your mind and focusing in the moment.

The cost? Critical thinking and reflection when you need to assess a situation to determine the right course of action. Too often decisions are made from false logic and a failure to assess the long-term ramifications. You need to know when to think fast, and think slow. 

4. Be present - Great leaders focus on the people they are with in this moment. When they speak to you they are with YOU, not ten minutes down the track. In being present and in this moment you are then able to access your deep wisdom and intuition and know what is the right course of action to take. You can pick up on the unconscious cues from the other person or people involved and more accurately assess their mettle.

Presence enables you to also calm your own emotions. Fear and anxiety are about what might happen in the future, resentment is about unfulfilled expectations of the past. In the present, in this moment, there is only now and emotions tend to be calm. Even in the face of your greatest crisis, if you can bring yourself right into the moment, you'll notice your brain and body calming down. You'll think more clearly and effectively.

5. Be incompetent.  No, that's not a typo. Whenever we start a new venture, project or challenge, we often have an expectation that we should be able to achieve it from the start. But that's not what makes it a challenge, nor a desirable goal. The very fact that we'll have to struggle, learn and put the effort in makes it exciting and interesting. If we could assume incompetence from the very beginning, then focus on the competencies and capacities we need to achieve our goals, we'll have way more freedom to struggle and falter.

When we give ourselves room to be less than perfect, we can learn from failures and mistakes as well as our successes. It is our ability to learn that is the greatest determinant of success, not our ability to do. When we learn from a beginner's mind, an open mind, we open ourselves to new experiences. Anything becomes possible.

As the pace of our world continues to speed up, we must all develop a heightened awareness of market changes, new opportunities and ways to maximise our people's value if we are to remain competitive. Congruent leaders often stand out as highly astute architects of change. Find your own way to lead the charge.

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