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Be a more effective leader ..Harvard business school

Nada Almutawa
10/09/2008 12:00 AM

Become a More Effective Leader by Asking One Tough Question

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What prevents us from making the changes we know will make us more effective leaders?

Great question. I may be the only executive educator who actually measures whether the participants in my leadership development courses actually do what I teach--and then measures if they are seen as becoming more effective leaders.

At the end of my sessions, I ask leaders (who have received 360-degree feedback) to follow up with their co-workers and ask for ongoing ideas about how they can continue to become more effective. A year later, about 70% do some version of this recommended follow-up (as reported by their co-workers, not by them); 30% do absolutely nothing.

I am not ashamed of these numbers. I am happy: not only are 70% of those who do their follow-up seen as becoming better leaders, the 30% who do absolutely nothing don`t get any worse!

But to your question, what prevents the 30% from making the changes they know will make them more effective leaders?

Dropping the Ball

I had the chance to interview many of the `do-nothings` with one of my clients a year later to ascertain why they had dropped the ball on their follow-up commitment.

Their answers had nothing to do with integrity, ethics, or values. The `do-nothings` were good people with good values. They were intelligent people who felt bad about not following up with their co-workers.

If it wasn`t lack of intelligence or values, why did 30% of the participants in my courses leave with the idea that they were going to put what they were taught into practice--and then let an entire year pass with no visible effort?

Excuses, Excuses

The answer has to do with a daydream. I have indulged in this daydream for years. In fact, you too may have had this same recurring daydream.

This daydream explains why the participants in my courses don`t end up doing what they know they should. It also probably explains why you don`t do many things in your life and career that you know you should.

The daydream goes like this:

"I am incredibly busy right now. In fact, I feel as busy as I have ever felt in my life. Sometimes my life feels a little out of control. But I am dealing with some very unique and special challenges right now. I think the worst of this will be over in a few months. Then I am going to take a couple of weeks to get organized, spend some time with my family, start my `healthy life` program, and work on personal development."

One Tough Question

Have you ever had a daydream that vaguely resembles this dream? How long have you been having this same, repetitive dream? Most leaders I meet have been having it for years.

I have learned a hard lesson trying to help real people change real behavior in the real world. The `couple of weeks` that you are fantasizing about are not going to happen. Look at the trend line. There is a good chance that tomorrow is going to be even crazier than today!

If you want to make real change, ask yourself this tough question: What am I willing to change now? Not `in a few months.` Not `when I get caught up.` Now.

Now, take a deep breath. Forget your glorious plans. Accept the craziness of your life. Do what you can do now. Let go of everything else. And make peace with what is.

List the `personal improvement` activities that you have been `planning` to do - but have not quite `got around to` yet.

Challenge yourself on each activity.

Get started on the activity within two weeks - or take it off the list - and quit tormenting yourself.

 source havard business school