How to exceed your expectations and team performance by being a more open minded leader in 3 easy steps.
I vividly remember one first day back at work after the new year arrived a few years ago. As customary, everyone greeted each other with a friendly “Happy new year!”. Casual conversations continued throughout the day, discussing new year’s wishes and resolutions. Everyone was full of hope and dreams for the new year to come.
My approach to new year’s resolutions is, however, a bit different than the usual. I stopped making a list of things I wanted to achieve a long time ago, as it never seemed to work for me. No, I never did lose the weight (or not for long). I never managed to keep my cool and be friendly with call centre agents that are unable to help me, no matter how hard I tried. And I never did stick to my plan of taking my job less seriously and spend more time having fun. In those days I was never being a more open minded leader.
Habit was simply stronger than all my best intentions.
So I decided to change my approach. I replaced the new year’s resolution list with a single, more abstract, theme for the year.
It works for me. It’s much more achievable and far less stressful. I start with an in-depth retrospection of the previous year and decide on the one behaviour or mindset that I want to focus on changing.
This particular year my new year’s resolution theme was to drop all expectations.
Keeping an open mind
I’ve had some amazing things happen to me in my life. I’ve received so many opportunities in the form of things, people, and places, that it’s impossible to list them all. Looking from the outside, I should have been ecstatically happy. Yet, no matter what I received or achieved, it was never quite what I wanted. I always felt a little bit disappointed.
My expectations were never met. I wanted it my way, and it never arrived quite like that, leaving me quietly disappointed inside.
In retrospect, it always arrived better than I expected. I just usually didn’t see it. Nor did I give it a chance as it wasn’t what I thought it should look like when it arrived.
I said no to everything that didn’t look exactly as I planned it. Then I was waiting for one flower in full bloom and when a whole flower farm with bags full of seeds and the workers to make it happen arrived, I said no. It wasn’t the flower I was looking for, and I couldn’t see that it might become an entire field of flowers, let alone one.
After the disappointments
Then, one day, after many disappointments, it finally dawned on me that it’s the expectations that are making me so unhappy. I desire to control the outcome that is stopping me from living the life I want.
So I decided to try something different. I decided to keep an open mind and say yes to things even though on the surface they didn’t look like what I had in mind. I now allow myself to give it a chance and let it grow for a while.
And that’s exactly when magic started to happen.
The moment I stopped trying to control how I thought my dreams should arrive, suddenly all of them started arriving one by one.
I realized that being a more open minded leader meant your expectations are always exceeded.
Being a more open minded leader
Leaders often have a very specific vision in their head of what the product and the people they work with should look like. They want it their way, discarding new ideas if it doesn’t match what they expected, even though they’re often unable to clearly express it. They expect people to know what they are thinking and when the results don’t match their expectations, they get frustrated. They’re afraid that if things don’t go exactly according to plan, that they’ll fail.
I used to be like that. I used to get annoyed with my team when they came up with ideas that I wasn’t looking for. It was only right if it matched my ideas. I wasn’t as happy as I could be, and my team members could be much more than what they were allowed to be. I was the one keeping them from growing into the roles they naturally evolved into as a result of my own closed mindset.
But that was then and this is now. Now I know better, and each day I strive to listen to the wisdom of the people I work with in an attempt for both of us to reach our goals. I don’t always get it right, but I keep practising following these three steps:
1. Become aware
All change starts with awareness. You can’t solve a problem if you’re not able to see it or willing to admit it exists. The first step is to become aware when there is disharmony or misalignment in the team, and your guidance system is your emotions.
Usually, it doesn’t feel very good when things are out of alignment. It hurts when I realize I tried to force my way onto someone against their will. It is disappointing when everyone works hard just to realize each person has a different idea and there’s no cohesion between the team.
These painful emotions are brilliant awareness tools that are hard to ignore. Whenever I feel a negative emotion, that is my trigger to realize that I’ve done something that is not in integrity.
2. Stop and evaluate
Once aware, I stop and take stock of what just happened. I ask myself whether I’m walking my talk. Am I practising what I preach? Am what I say and do in line with what I think or what I know?
There’s a big difference between knowing and doing, as Andy Radka explains in his post called Mind the Leadership Gap Between Knowing and Doing.
You close this gap with practice, asking yourself daily whether what you know and what you are doing is the same. Are you behaving like the person you want to be?
3. Forgive yourself and try again
There is a saying that it’s only a mistake if you haven’t learned the lesson yet. Once you’ve learned the lesson, you always see that everything that happened was exactly the way it should have been – including the less than desired feelings and things that happened. It wasn’t wrong, it was a lesson.
I would have never realized or wanted to be a better leader if I didn’t felt guilty or bad from time to time. Each ‘mistake’ is an indication of growth – showing that there’s more and that you can be even better. All that’s left is for you to forgive yourself and try again.
People are generally forgiving, it’s you who is the one unable to forgive yourself and putting too much pressure on yourself trying to be perfect. I recently read true and inspiring words from an unknown source that sounded something like the following:
True leadership is not about not making mistakes, it’s about how you recover from the mistakes you’ve made.
Do you grow from the experience? Or do you feel ashamed and try to defend it?
Leading people is not the same as managing people. Managing people means you have all the answers and you simply need hands to do the work. Leadership, on the other hand, involves tapping into the knowledge of the people around you. It’s about asking the right questions rather than knowing the answers.
With 20 years experience in the software development industry, Kate specializes in helping teams get unstuck, communicate and ultimately be more productive. She believes in efficiency through fun implementing lean, agile and playful design as tools for process improvement and organizational change. Her goal is to create more happy, healthy and whole workplaces where each person thrives and productivity soars.