Nothing worthwhile in life is easy. Often times, we avoid the things that are difficult to do because they are just “too hard.” Making these tough choices to take action are dreaded to the point where many of us tend to procrastinate on them. Winning leaders, however, know that in order to continue to build positive momentum on their teams, these difficult steps must be taken.
Think about the last time that you had to do something that you found to be extremely challenging. What was the situation? Counseling sessions, corrective action, or conflict resolution are often times the first examples that leaders consider when posed with this question. These situations are among the most difficult for many leaders, especially for those who lack experience in these matters.
When leaders lack experience, they lack competence. When they lack competence, they lack confidence and it is this lack of confidence that drives procrastination, stress and worry. Because these inexperienced leaders lack the confidence, they tend to avoid the difficult situations and because they avoid the situations, they don’t gain experience and practice time in handling these challenging moments, and it is because they don’t practice that they don’t gain competence. As you can see, this becomes a vicious cycle that they get trapped in.
Experienced, senior Winning Leaders understand this cycle and work to reverse it by practicing these moments of managerial courage with their team of inexperienced leaders. They uncover real-world examples and use them with their young leaders to role play how they will, or would, handle the situations. This method forces the young leaders to skill practice the specific language and thought processes that they would use, how they would deal with emotionally volatile environments, and how they would apply the many tactical approaches available to them.
Closing the Knowledge Gap for these difficult skills requires following a series of specific steps described as the “Habit Ladder”:
Communication – We need to understand the specific form of communication that best suits our desired results. In this communication we need to lay out clear behavioral and result expectations that the learner must take. This is often done through coursework or one-on-one instruction.
Understanding – The learner must come to an understanding of the specific expectations involved. This is done through a culture of open communication where they are able to ask questions and receive answers and honest coaching.
Agreement – Then the learner must agree to the process, and often times this is where procrastination plants its seed. When the leader understand the steps but doesn’t agree to them, he or she will tend to not be committed to growing in the skills required to improve and, therefore, will put off taking action.
Practice – Once we gain agreement with the leader, the next step of practicing the desired skill becomes much easier to execute. With agreement, the leader desires to learn and grow, and will be far more committed to the end result and therefore will put more focus and effort into quality practice time.
Habit – Finally when the skill is practiced enough, it becomes a habit. This habit is a skill that is automatically utilized when required. It is something that is unconsciously applied and produces the desired result consistently.
The “Habit Level” is where we need our young, inexperienced leaders to be with the skill of handling difficult situations. Managerial courage, resolving conflict, coaching, counseling, and progressive discipline are not always natural or comfortable actions for most of us to take. We are naturally “nice people” so we tend to struggle with conflict in its many forms. To overcome this natural instinct, we need to spend time practicing until a new habit is formed and it becomes our new instinct. We must practice speaking the words, writing the documents and handling the emotions. We must practice the hard stuff. That’s how we improve our skills and ultimately improve our situations and overall teams. Leadership is hard. We, however, have the ability to make it easier through practice.