All high performers want to be better leaders. Everybody who is in a leadership role should, at the very least, want to be better every single day. Improving constantly is a trait that’s common among high performers. Each year, I focus on becoming a better leader. Over the years, I’ve tried various strategies to find out what works best.
The following four strategies are those that have led me to become a better leader. I have tested these approaches, failed at some of them and learned from all of them. See which ones resonate most with you.
1. Keep an open mind to learn and grow constantly
Lifelong learning is one habit that sets high performers apart from everyone else. Leaders are always curious about the world around them, and they pursue personal growth and learning with open minds.
Learning comes in many different forms. For me, it comes with reading. I read every day — articles about my profession, psychology, the economy, other cultures, trends among different generations, health — any topic. The more I read, the more of a well-rounded person and leader I become. Learning is crucial to becoming a better leader.
You can also learn by writing. Write down what matters to you — your principles and your values — and then focus on them.
- Read more — Set a goal to read for a certain amount of time every day. Chances are, you’ll enjoy learning so much that you’ll soon be reading for much longer than you originally intended.
- Write more — Try writing as a way to learn more about yourself. Write down and share your best practices and lessons learned with those around you. Write about your successes and how you achieved them. Write about your failures and what you’ve learned from them.
“Commit yourself to lifelong learning. The most valuable-Brian Tracy
asset you’ll ever have is your mind and what you put into it.”
2. Get comfortable with imperfection
Perfection isn’t possible for any human, so pursuing it is a waste of time and energy. Perfection isn’t possible in leadership or in parenting. If you are a parent, you know how easy it is to look back and think, “I should have done that differently.” But parents lead their children into adulthood through trial and error, just as leaders inspire their teams to success.
When you lead, you have to become comfortable with imperfection. Why? Because being imperfect just means you’re taking the initiative to become better. Sometimes your plans work out, and sometimes they don’t. Expecting perfection from yourself and others will only lead to disappointment. Disappointed leaders are bad leaders, upset leaders, emotional leaders.
For me, becoming a better leader meant getting comfortable with being imperfect every single day. I am as imperfect as one can be. Imperfection is a key ingredient in the recipe for success.
- Strive for excellence. Let go of the unrealistic goal of perfection.
- Do you tend to be a perfectionist? In what ways does your goal for perfection slow you down, dampen your curiosity and limit your ability to learn new skills and knowledge?
“A person who never made a mistake-Albert Einstein
never tried anything new.”
3. Empower people instead of asserting power over them
Many people equate leadership with power. But power is overrated. I want people to want to make the right decisions on their own. I don’t want to force them to make certain decisions. Now, I do some of the things in my career a certain way because of compliance requirements. In those areas, I have no choice. Rules are there for a reason, so I acknowledge them and follow them.
But often, a power-hungry manager (I can’t call that type of person a “leader”) demands that people do things a certain way — just because he or she is the boss. Maybe you have encountered people like that in your work. People tend to resist doing what they’re told to do when there is no obvious purpose for it except to stroke someone’s ego.
A 2023 study published in Harvard Business Review revealed that teams ruled by overbearing leaders who issue commands don’t generate the innovative, creative thinking that is the lifeblood of companies. I can tell you this is true, from my experience.
In a recent marketing meeting, our team was discussing our videos. We were talking about how we could showcase the best aspects of what we do by having people who are a part of our company become involved in getting the message out. This is very personal for us. We value each team member’s experience, and we believe we can help people learn from what we’re experiencing, teaching and sharing in our own journey. This is something we all get excited about.
As leaders, we could easily make people who work for us do things, but what’s the point in that? If an effort doesn’t resonate with someone, why should he or she have to do it and pretend to be all in? Why should your team members share something personal if they would prefer not to? What I’d rather do is form a committee of people who do care, who are interested in giving us topics and titles that matter to them. That’s what we decided to do as we create new videos.
Everyone has different interests. If you take the time to find out what they are, you will end up with a well-rounded team of people who bring unique perspectives from their interests and experiences to the table. Also, when people know you care about them as individuals, they will be more engaged in the process.
That’s not forcing a team to do something. That’s not using power to make someone do something. It’s taking a team approach — listening, learning from each other and bringing out the best in everyone.
This is something I had to learn over time; I didn’t always take this approach. When I first launched my business two decades ago, there were only five of us. I would say things like, “If all five of us do this, then we will accomplish our goal.” My team members at the time went along with it because of mutual love and respect, but it was still the wrong approach.
- Empower people to do their best. Refrain from pushing power on them.
- Learn more about your team members. Learn what each individual team member excels at and enjoys, and then give him or her opportunities to grow even more in those areas. Empower people to want to learn. Empower them to understand and empathize with why this is important to you and everybody you’re helping.
- Set specific goals for getting to know people better. What steps can you take to learn more about each of your team members (and your family members, fellow board members and others)? In what ways do you think learning more about their interests, talents and fears can enable you to lead them more effectively?
4. Build a culture of connection
It’s easy for high performers to get involved with a lot of projects and priorities all at once. When that happens, we typically aren’t connecting or engaging with any one of them.
As a leader, you must be in the moment with the people and projects we are focusing on. I believe it is mandatory for leaders to have a strong connection with the objects of their focus. For some leaders, this comes naturally; others have to work at it.
You need to be connected to your purpose and to the people in your work life and personal life. So, what does it mean to be connected? It means you care about people. You care about them as individuals, as humans, you care about what they are going through at work and outside of work. You care what they do, how they live, what they want to do, what they want to be when they grow up and what keeps them up at night. But also, you care what their dreams are, even if their dreams don’t involve you and your company or your family.
I have become a better leader in my company by having Monday-morning huddles and coffee conversations where we learn about everybody’s weekends. Every single week, I learn just a little bit more about everybody. We discuss our wins and challenges every single week. Those discussions help me understand what’s important, where someone’s struggling and why they’re struggling.
This might sound like a small thing, but done consistently, it builds a culture of connection. In our work spaces, we are all connected because we have a mutual task. But we need much more than that to become better leaders. We need to connect with every team member on a deeper level — not just because we’re all striving for the same outcome but because we are all humans striving for a sense of community and accomplishment.
Strengthening my connection with others is one of the most important aspects of my journey of becoming a better leader.
- Assess yourself. How connected do you tend to be when you are interacting with a team member? Are you in the moment, or is your attention scattered in many directions? If this is an area that could use improvement, practice being more connected.
- Assess your team members. How connected do your team members seem to be when interacting with one another? Bring up the importance of connection with them, and discuss how everyone could improve in this area.