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5 Ways To Stop Unrealistic Expectations Getting In The Way of Good Leadership

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by Startacus Admin


Ensure you are leading your startup in the most effective way thanks to these tips from Karen Meager, co-founder of Monkey Puzzle Training & Consultancy.

cherrydeck-05gac-Qn0k4-unsplash.Of the many components required to make a new business successful, chief among them is good leadership. The major challenges facing modern leaders are the same as they were a decade ago: managing time and dealing with difficult behaviour. But these days, business leaders are expected to embody a wide range of (often contradictory) personality traits. They are expected to be decisive yet flexible, empathetic yet analytical, and clear yet nuanced. It is an ever-growing list of expectations that is exhausting and unrealistic for any single person.

The move away from leaders being the authority to taking on broader responsibilities for the employee experience is generally a welcome one. But has the needle shifted too far? How can we expect leaders to understand and respond to paradoxical needs and demands?

Here are five steps to follow:

1. Identify the kind of leader you are

By identifying your strengths, you can lean into them, spending time cultivating those skills that you are uniquely good at. If your strengths don’t fit the organisation, perhaps it actually isn’t the right role for you. If they do fit, you can make yourself part of the fabric of the business.

As well as identifying your strengths, it can be very useful to find your ‘why’. Why do you do this work? Why is it meaningful to you? Once you know the reason and meaning behind your own motivations, it becomes easier to focus on them and develop the right skills for meaningful work.

By setting the right development goals—those that feel meaningful and relevant—you will become the type of leader you want to be. For everything else that you are less good at, find someone else who can help plug the gaps. You can’t be an expert at everything, so why waste time and energy trying?

2. Be resilient

linkedin-sales-solutions-oFMI6CdD7yU-unsplash As a caring, empathetic leader, it can be hard not to take criticism to heart. It’s important, therefore, to find ways to disconnect and develop resilience to criticism. Disconnecting doesn’t mean you don’t care, just as resilience to criticism doesn’t mean you stop taking feedback. It does, however, mean creating a layer of armour around yourself so that you don’t take it all so personally. 

Armour can be particularly useful for feedback. Create a sort of ‘spongey wall’ that absorbs critical feedback without penetrating your core. Using a mentor or other third party can help – they can filter the feedback, picking out key themes you might want to act on, while limiting the unhelpful noise. You can also mentally prepare yourself with armour for conversations that are likely to be difficult and/or critical.

Armour also means boundaries. While it can be difficult to express clear boundaries sometimes, setting them for yourself can be a helpful reminder to switch off and recover. Set end times when you will switch off your phone and laptop so you aren’t always available. Try to limit the number of evenings you work late as well. This will help maintain some energy and work-life balance.

3. Develop strong emotional regulation 

Unfortunately, when others are emotional, your emotional dysregulations will suck you in, causing a cycle of upset. The employee is upset, you become upset, they are upset at your reaction and get more upset, and so on.

It can be useful to consider what psychologists call the Drama Triangle. In the triangle, there are victims, rescuers and persecutors. Victims need a persecutor to blame and a rescuer to save them. Being cast as the persecutor can feel unfair and unwarranted, leading them to become the victims in their own triangle. Being cast as the rescuer can feel rewarding at first but, really, it is an unending task since the victim stays steadfast in their role as victim.

Instead of getting sucked into any of these roles, it is important for leaders to remain grounded. That way, you can listen and empathise without feeling the need to agree or disagree, rescue or persecute. 

It helps to be well-organised. Keep in mind that most people like clarity and hate surprises – doubly so for neurodivergent people. Publishing an agenda for every meeting, however small, can help people to prepare mentally and emotionally. Similarly, having an appointed facilitator can help provide clarity and direction to meetings.

If you need to cancel, leave or rearrange a meeting, be sure to take an extra moment to explain why. People will really appreciate the clarity and it will stop them from taking it personally and becoming dysregulated themselves.

4. Master the art of the difficult conversation

Dealing with difficult people and behaviour is a key part of being a leader yet is one aspect that many leaders find hard, especially those who are more sensitive and empathetic.

Many people think that they can avoid conflict by avoiding difficult conversations, but this only causes issues to remain hidden and fester. It’s like trying to avoid a serious infection by refusing to see a doctor. Difficult conversations are essential in understanding the expectations and challenges of employees. 

If you can create armour for yourself, establish clear boundaries, develop your emotional regulation, and have peer support, these conversations will become much easier.

linkedin-sales-solutions-W3Jl3jREpDY-unsplashHowever, this does not come naturally for most people and requires practice. Start small and build up as your skills improve. You can practise your listening skills with peers, mentors and third-party trainers before going into a ‘live’ situation. And there will always be an opportunity to practise in live situations through your work.

There are lots of books and resources that can help, from our practical guide Real Leaders to Adam Grant’s brilliant book Think Again which challenges our fundamental notions on how to shift perceptions and have productive, challenging conversations.

Remember: you don’t need to do everything that is asked of you, but you do need to engage. That means listening, understanding and asking questions. Showing that you are genuinely interested and concerned goes a long way to resolving conflict.

5. Acquire peer support

Leadership can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. Cultivating a group of supportive peers and/or mentors to go to for help processing difficult events can provide essential moral support. 

Peer support groups can be particularly important and effective in larger organisations, where structures tend to be more hierarchical. By creating a cohort of leaders on a similar level, you can share and discuss challenges openly without fear of conflicting agendas or power dynamics. 

In smaller organisations, or for very senior leaders, developing a mentor relationship can be a useful approach. It is important that you can trust your mentor so that you can speak openly and share your concerns freely. It can also help if the mentor has some pre-existing knowledge of your industry so that the conversation and advice are relevant.

HR Karen Meager Monkey Puzzle TrainingABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karen Meager is co-founder of Monkey Puzzle Training & Consultancy, a leadership development and organisational design consultancy and co-author of Real Leaders: a practical guide to the essential qualities of effective leadership. Monkey Puzzle works with business leaders to help align teams, support innovation, build sustainable organisations and develop exceptional people who are better able to achieve results - giving leaders more time to do what they do best. 




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Published on: 24th March 2023

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