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To Ponder & Action: (Anti)BullS#it Change Leadership

What labels do you give yourself?

Perhaps you’re a son or a daughter?

A father, a mother, or a grandparent?

A doctor? An academic? A practitioner? A change agent?

A leader? An executive?

An expert?

These titles, these labels, all have connotations… Expectations that come with them.

We expect parents to be strong and caring.

We expect doctors to be insightful and calculated while being calm and considerate.

And we expect leaders to embody every single one of those ‘Leadership’ quotes that everyone is so fond of sharing. (And people must be, given LinkedIn estimates that ‘Leadership First’ – a company that exists solely to “share the very best inspirational leadership quotes and articles” – has grown its employee base by 40% in the last year!)

For years we’ve been bombarded with those ‘difference between a leader and a manager’ memes. About ‘toxic vs healthy culture’. About ‘becoming the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily’.

The bar for anyone in a leadership position has been set so high that it has become ‘Instagram unattainable’.

The way we view leadership needs a shakeup. Similar to the Instagram vs Reality trend a little while ago. For those of you who missed it… here’s a few examples:

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r/instagramvsreality - Your daily reminder social media is fake

The same way that poses, filters and lies dominate the popularity contest that is Instagram, these ‘inspirational leadership’ posts are shaping unrealistic expectations in ourselves and our staff alike.

Admittedly, it’s a difficult situation. Leaders are responsible for so much of a worker’s day to day work environment. Workplace bullies do exist. As do abusers. Neither of those are to be given a pass here. Both are despicable.

But what about the woman who is running a large restructure program, who’s also a single parent? Who feels a double-prong guilt everyday. Either she leaves early to run off to grab her little one after school, or she stays with her team and her little one is left to walk home to an empty house.

Or the man leading a large data team… who’s also going through a tough divorce, and struggling with his recent diabetes diagnosis. He’s distracted – and so he misses opportunities to thank or reward his employees.

These people are showing up. Making decisions, and being the best that can be in that day. In that moment.

Does ‘Instagram Leadership’ really serve them?

But what’s the alternative.

What bar should we hold ourselves against?

I’ll make a simple suggestion here. Embrace Realistic Leadership.

Similar to the way that there are almost no pure introverts or extroverts (we all tend to fluctuate on a spectrum) – there is always going to be a deficiency in your leadership. But there are also going to be strengths (otherwise you wouldn’t be in that position in the first place!)

Realistic leaders are ones that take reality seriously – and look to shape and harness it as it is.

There’s a number of ways to do this, but I’ll offer just one for the moment. You must orient your limited time and energy around your strengths. Here’s how to do that in just 4 steps.

1st – Take a stocktake of yourself based on the evidence of your own achievements and failures. (And ask those around you what they consider your leadership strengths to be).

2nd – Accept the deficiencies and actively find ways to delegate or outsource them.

3rd – Reallocate your time, effort and focus into areas that are your strengths.

4th – Spend time and money in growing your strengths further.

Bottom line – if you’re not spending 80% of your time on areas that accentuate your strengths, then you’re setting you and your change up to fail. Focus on what makes you strong. (Personally, those 4 steps are ones that I’ve been consciously working on every week thus far in 2022.)

This isn’t anything new, but it is simple and quantifiable.

And that’s where realistic leaders dwell.

Are you guilty of judging yourself against ‘Instagram Leadership’ standards?

Are you spending at least 80% of your time on areas that leverage your strengths? If not – fix that.

To Reflect: Your Weekly Anti-Platitude

Leadership isn’t always about strategic vision or inspiration.

Sometimes leadership is effective management.

And that’s ok.

Brendon Baker

Brendon is a leading expert in strategic framing and inside-out change. He has led and guided over $11 Billion in transformative projects and programs, from transformations to teddy bears. He is the author of the best-seller Valuable Change, and niche top seller Creating High Value PMOs. Brendon now spends his time helping leaders cut through the noise to focus on what matters; working with them to create new realities.

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