Being good at your job might not be enough to guarantee a successful career. Sounds pretty counterintuitive, right? The landscape of the workplace is changing. Gone are the days where putting your head down and working long hours will guarantee you a spot up the corporate ladder. Bringing in new clients and closing a number of big deals may mean that you're good at your job; however, doing your job well does not always translate to a leadership position. The good news? Whether you're looking to move into a management position, or you have your eye on the C-suite, there are steps that you can take to put yourself on a path towards success. Here are three steps that you can follow to start thinking, responding, and behaving like a corporate leader.
1) Leaders Understand Emotional Responsibility
You, and you alone, are responsible for your emotional and behavioral reactions. No one and nothing can make you feel a particular way. If our reactions were dictated by outside forces, we’d all react the same way when faced with a difficult boss or a stressful day at work- and we know that this isn’t the case. This means that telling your colleague, “You’re making me so frustrated,” isn’t exactly accurate. You can choose how you want to respond. The first step is to recognize that it’s your mindset (read more) about the situation that will dictate your reaction. By learning to shift your mindset, you will have the ability to respond more effectively. Check out our earlier blogs to learn more about the role of mindset in leadership development.
2) Leaders are able to Express Frustration AND Keep Their Cool
As discussed above, you have the power to control your reactions. That being said, you may not feel positively all of the time, and that’s okay! It isn’t realistic to think that you'd feel positively in a negative situation. However, being able to keep your cool in a time of crisis is a critical skill as a leader. Dr. Albert Ellis’ model of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) differentiates between unhelpful and helpful negative emotions. Not all negative emotions are created equal. The idea is that some negative emotions lead to unhelpful behaviors that can be pretty self-sabotaging, while other negative emotions are more helpful.
Think about the last time that you felt angry at work because team members didn’t pull their weight, and all you wanted to do was yell at them. Or, what about a time that you felt anxious about a meeting, and then you considered calling out sick. Neither of those behaviors would be particularly helpful in navigating those situations. However, if I told you to try and feel happy about a team member screwing up, or to feel excited about a stressful meeting with a client, you’d probably stop reading because that's not realistic. Now let's consider emotions such as frustration, concern, or worry. These emotions are different than anger and anxiety, because they help motivate us to solve problems, communicate assertively, and listen actively- these are much more effective behaviors than yelling or calling out sick. Also, these emotions are realistic in times of stress. Learning to move towards helpful negative emotions is a skill that you can master with practice. How? You guessed it, by changing your mindset about stressful and challenging situations.
3) Leaders Lead
The previous two steps are integral for achieving step number three. Skillful leadership doesn’t just come from organizing, uniting, and directing, but also communicating in a meaningful and effective way. It’s incredibly challenging to communicate effectively when one’s emotions are on a roller coaster. That’s where emotional responsibility and distinguishing between unhelpful and helpful negative emotions come into play. By taking control of your emotions, you’re better able to: (1) formulate a clear message, (2) deliver that message effectively, and (3) respond to any questions or concerns. Some leaders may come off as aggressive in their communication, and they definitely get their point across, but people are afraid to respond or ask questions. A leader who is in control of their reaction, and can keep their cool, is better able to create a dialogue through assertive (instead of aggressive) communication. Conversations may take more time, but this dialogue allows for collaboration and teamwork.
Next time you’re thinking about your career trajectory, make sure to not only evaluate the job specific skills that are important in advancing professionally, but also the “soft skills” that are needed to succeed. Even though these skills are called “soft skills,” they form the framework of a strong leader. Stay tuned next week as we take a closer look at these skills.
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