This is a topic I’ve given a lot of thought to. And no, it hasn’t always been easy says Fred Auzenne.
One thing I realized fairly early on is that there are two ways to learn about leadership:
(1) Trial and error;
(2) Learning from others.
The latter requires introspection, self-awareness, and maybe even some therapy now and then (I joke). Taking the time to stop and reflect on your own experiences is probably more difficult than it sounds. A lot of leaders prefer avoiding looking in the mirror if they can help it. So one question I ask myself at least once or twice a year is this: “What could you do better?” And by ‘you’ I don’t mean me specifically – I mean all leaders.
As you can imagine, this type of reflection is especially useful when things aren’t going so well. It’s not just about looking for ways to be better in the future – self-reflection also gives you a sense of perspective on the past. Did your behavior produce the results you wanted? Why or why not?
What else have I learned over the years? Here are some random thoughts:
1) The buck stops with me. Nobody else has 100% responsibility for anything – but I’m responsible for everything.
2) It doesn’t matter how smart I am if I don’t get followers to work with me towards my vision.
3) If something isn’t working, it’s cost anything to change course.
4) Leaders must hold themselves accountable to improve over time. Followers don’t have the same luxury – they can look forward, but they also need to look back explains Fred Auzenne.
5) I make mistakes when I’m in hurry, and when people give me bad information. But when you’re given bad information, it’s no excuse to stick with that plan even if your data is telling you otherwise. If something isn’t working, change course immediately!
6) You can never please all the people all the time – nor should you try. Sometimes tough decisions are necessary, and not everyone will agree with them. This is one reason why alignment inside an organization is so important: having a shared sense of purpose allows leaders to make tough decisions with conviction.
7) There’s a fine line between being persuasive and being pushy – the latter is not going to be effective as a leader. I have found that leaders who are good at cultivating a culture of trust and respect tend to be more persuasive in the long run, even if it means taking a few extra days or weeks to convince people.
8) A lot of day-to-day decision making often involves tradeoffs between prioritizing time (e.g., meeting today vs. planning for tomorrow), resources (e.g., hiring one person vs. another), or money (e.g., spending $100M now vs investing $200M over 3 years). The best way forward isn’t always obvious.
I consider myself to be a pragmatic person, and I try not to lose sight of the fact that many of these decisions have a cost associated with them – a tradeoff between what you might gain now vs. what you lose later. In other words, being a great leader doesn’t necessarily mean that everything will go your way 100% of the time. Sometimes it’s good enough just knowing you gave something every ounce of effort and thinking you had an impact on people’s lives says Fred Auzenne.
One thing I learned from David Ogilvy is that leaders should listen more than they speak up – hard for some people to do given our noisy world today! And even if someone disagrees with me, I prefer asking questions rather than telling them what I think. It’s a more respectful way to engage with people, and it also gives me the opportunity to learn something in the process.
The best way for leaders to improve is through trial and error, learning from their own experiences, and also learning from others. This requires introspection, self-awareness, and maybe even some therapy now and then (I joke). Taking the time to stop and reflect on your own experiences is probably more difficult than it sounds. A lot of leaders avoid looking in the mirror if they can help it, but that’s a mistake. Reflection is a key to learning and growth.
In conclusion, self-reflection is an important skill for leaders to develop. It allows them to reflect on their own experiences and learn from them, as well as listen more effectively to others says Fred Auzenne. Leaders who are good at self-reflection tend to be more persuasive and have a better sense of perspective. Trial and error is the best way to learn, so leaders should embrace it!