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Being a leader can be lonely. You feel like you are being watched all the time and you have to act like you have it all together.

I get that.

But here’s the challenge: to ask for help when you need it. Which takes a little vulnerability.

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It’s taken me many years to develop my ability to empathize with other people. I tend to think of myself as analytical and goal driven, and relating to people isn’t my natural strength.

Taking my first management job, and later increasing my scope, caused me to realize that results are achieved only through the team I lead. After my corporate job I focused on coaching, helping my clients to develop deeper skills of leadership, influence, and driving results.

I’ve learned that the core skill of leading people is simply empathy. It seems a bit weird because it’s not me driving someone else, the way we usually think about leadership.

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True leaders understand that their role is to serve others.

That sounds like a contradiction, right? When we think of the typical boss/employee model, it’s very clear which direction serving should go.

You’re the boss, and others aren’t. So they should serve you.

The reality is that this isn’t sustainable.

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We tend to think of leadership as something you achieve, then you get to keep it forever. Or at least a long time.

But I’m a member of an amazing service organization, Rotary International, which has the practice of changing leadership every year. I’m signed up to be the president of the club for the 2023-24 year, and I’m starting to get my mind wrapped around the implications of that. And trying not to get stressed out about it.

But I’m keenly aware that I’m just a temporary seatholder in a long string of leaders, going back to 1977 for our club. It’s a humbling realization.

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The Great Resignation, or Great Reshuffling, or whatever you call it. I’m talking to a whole bunch of people who are re-prioritizing, re-examining, and re-thinking what their work is about.

It’s a major factor in how employees are making decisions right now.

Part of the problem is that everyone has their own priorities and sense of balance. More than ever, it really matters if you have small kids, elderly parents, or are thinking of buying a house when prices are going through the roof.

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There are times when progress is just … S O   S L O W. It seems like I’m getting nowhere and wasting time.

Most of the time, that’s all in my head. The pressure is coming from wanting something Right Now.

But most things take some time to develop.

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You’re the leader, so your job is to tell other people what to do. As if it ever worked that way.

No, you want to lead by inspiration. By example.

Which means that YOU are the first one that needs to change. YOU need to reflect the direction of your organization, and how you want your people to make decisions.

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If you’re a leader, then people will look to your crystal ball to provide some reassurance about the future. The problem, of course, is that you have no magic crystal ball and can’t tell the future better than anyone else.

But did you notice that I used the word “reassurance”? Because that’s what people are really seeking. Being able to tell the future is one way to do that, but not the only way. Honestly, if you try to rely just on THAT skill, people are going to be skeptical because they know that nobody has the ability.

So what is it about, then?

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Culture is a powerful concept in business, identifying the way people actually work together to get stuff done. It’s connected with other larger cultures, of course, including the community, society and country we live in.

Individuals also bring their own micro-culture — how they interact, communicate, make decisions, and so on.

But here I’m focusing on the culture we all share in our organizations. Our key processes interleave with the way we work together as people. We’d like to think that they’re in sync. When they’re not, everyone gets frustrated and the processes don’t work well.

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We all have excuses. My alarm didn’t go off. Someone forgot to tell me. I’ve been busy.

Yeah, there’s always a reason for messing up someone else’s life. It couldn’t possibly be … me!

This is deadly to your reputation as a leader. Leaders are all about getting stuff done – as an individual, and as a team. So when you make an excuse, that’s laying the groundwork for everyone to blame others, and not accomplish very much.

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