There is more than enough for everyone. I learned this life lesson from my mother as a young child growing up in Jamaica. No matter how little food we might have to feed our family of eight, mama would always put in an extra amount of whatever the meal of the day was- just in case someone dropped by.
I read Stephen R. Covey’s account of how he violated one of his habits of highly effective people. The story was about one of his sons who refused to share his birthday gifts with the other children. Covey used all his techniques but could not get him to share. Overcome with emotions driven by his ego, because now the other parents were watching him handle this ‘situation,’ he took his son’s toys and divided them amongst the children.
Reflecting on this incident, Covey had an ah-ha moment. He realized his son had no time to ‘own’ the toys. Asking him to share so soon set him up for failure. We can’t give what we don’t have.
Could this be why not enough leaders share their knowledge with their direct reports and colleagues? In my work with leaders for almost a decade, I often hear stories similar to Covey’s son’s experience. Leaders are sent for a variety of training in the technical and personal development areas. I often hear that nothing gets changed at work. Leaders return to work and business as usual.
There are three reasons leaders find it hard to share knowledge and a certain level of humanity with their direct reports. First is the desire for self-preservation. These leaders might not have had someone pouring into them and modelling how to share. They likely had indirect ‘mentors’ who were not able to share. This creates a vicious cycle fuelled by a scarcity mindset. They believe in the pie being limited rather than limitless.
Second, the view that leadership is an achievement rather than a responsibility for people. Leadership as an achievement is often seen in leaders driven by externally-focused goals and constantly searching to add more to themselves than others.
Third is a significant deficit of emotional intelligence, specifically decision-making and interpersonal awareness. This third reason is what I often see as the most common reason behind leaders who don’t share. Decisions are usually made impulsively, and their ability to see things as they are is lacking. So, they come across as unable to connect at the human level. They might be technical superstars but fail miserably where heart, compassion and empathy are sorely needed in the workplace.
These reasons for why leaders don’t share all can be fixed. Here are three ways to start being the kind of leader who shares without fear of not having enough:
- Reflection. This simple act of taking time to look back at the day through the lens of these three questions:
- How did I grow today?
- Who did I help to grow today?
- What will I do differently tomorrow?
I encourage you to write out these questions along with your answers. At the end of the week, month and year, set aside time to review your notes. You will be amazed at the wisdom you gather from this process. It shows you how to incrementally lead your way out of self-preservation mode to building others mode and, in so doing, become a better version of yourself.
Responsibility. This goes much further than your technical responsibilities. It includes the call to lead with your people’s needs in mind. Suppose one of your employees takes some time off to be with an ailing relative or mourn the loss of a loved one. While away from work and when they return to work, let them know that you hope they are coping well. Have a card for them appropriate to their situation. Please keep checking in with them and encouraging them to feel safe sharing. Your employees will be vulnerable only when they see you modelling that mindset.
Relationships. The quality of your relationship with your direct report is a direct measure of your ability to share. This critical Inter-Human Responsibility is the equivalent of ‘air’ for successful leadership. Investing in building and sustaining safe and healthy relationships with your direct reports is essential to growing as an emotionally intelligent leader. Your direct reports will follow suit.
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