017: The one truth about leadership that no one talks about

Are you feeling stuck with how to handle those difficult people at work? You know, the people who seem to always put roadblocks in your way. And after 10 roadblocks you are wondering, surely this cannot be accidental. The people who are resistant to your ideas and make life problematic for everyone in the team.

Are you wanting to build real personal resilience, so that you feel confident with those difficult conversations, instead of feeling anxious, exhausted, overwhelmed, and on the verge of burnout? 

Perhaps you are an ambitious change-agent, motivated to inspire others into a better way of doing things. But finding the time and energy to get the buy-in you know you need is, well, exhausting. 

Are you left feeling overwhelmed, drained and depleted? 

Perhaps you know the theory of leading, but it doesn’t seem to play out that way for you, and management seems to take up all your time, so you deciding to stick with the tech role you started with, despite your desire to influence and create positive change.

If you are ready to be full of confidence and be that influencer you crave, then I have one thing you need to know. The one thing that is not talked about enough when we are taught about leadership or leadership is ‘shown’ to us by those above. This one thing: it is the glue that makes great leadership happen.

Curious? Let’s go to the show.

Show Notes

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Hello hello Leading Women in Tech, we are back. How is your week? Or how’s your weekend, if you’re listening at the weekend. I hope it’s going splendidly. I hope October is treating you well so far. Here in Scotland, we’re definitely taking a turn for the stormy worse. I actually quite like this time of year. I feel like as the nights draw in, I have an excuse to spend more time in my PJ’s. Who am I kidding? Working from home, I kind of live in my PJ’s. All of my clients know that I might look okay on the top half that’s on camera, but the bottom off, totally all about the comfort. I hope you’re enjoying the nights drawing in yourself. If you’re in the Southern hemisphere, I’m hoping you’re enjoying the spring waking up. I have a few clients in Africa and Australia, and I know that they’re excited to move away from winter. It’s nice to have that juxtaposition in the work that I do.

Before I get on to the topic of today’s episode and telling you what that one thing is that you need in your leadership, I want to make sure that you are on the wait list for the very soon to come Imposter Syndrome Mini Course. This is a completely free course that I’ve developed, because imposter syndrome is something I see holding back pretty much everybody I work with. The stats say between 70 and 85% of people, depending on which study you look at, have imposter syndrome at some point in their life. Everybody I’ve worked with, though, has experienced imposter syndrome. Maybe it’s just the people that come and work with me. Maybe it’s the people that are seeking out leisure coaching, which hey ho, go and get that help if that’s what you need. I admire you for taking action if that’s what you need. But either way, I am seeing that this is such a common thing, so I’ve put this mini course together. I actually just recorded the first edit of the final part of the course, so that that should be winging its way very soon.

If you’re not on the wait list, why not? Go to TonicCollis.com/ImposterSyndrome, get your name on the waitlist, and get access as soon as it lands. It’s completely free, and it’s really there to help you learn not just about your own imposter syndrome, but real actionable techniques. It’s not just, “You feel like a fraud. Well go off and fix yourself,” but real stuff that you can do to take action. But more important, because I’m all about the leadership, what that means for your leadership. Not just what it means for you, but how to learn how to recognize this in others. How to help others with their imposter syndrome without making them feel like a failure, because that’s what I’m about. We do the inner work and we use that to become better leaders. Go check that out. TonicCollis.com/ImposterSyndrome. Get on the wait list. The link will be in the show notes at TonicCollis.com/episode17 or in your favorite podcast player.

Okay, let’s talk about the one truth about leadership that nobody talks about. Honestly, I don’t know why people don’t talk about this more. It’s so important. I had to figure this out for myself. I have taken numerous leadership courses, coaching experiences, mentoring experiences during my professional career before I became a coach myself, and nobody told me this. It was actually my business coach that first made me aware that I wasn’t doing this.

Then I realized, this is something I should have been doing as a leader. It isn’t just required from my business, which is how it came up. I’m like, yeah, that’s actually what you end up doing as a leader. It’s just that some of us figured it out. I figured it out. It helped me get to the C-suite. Hands down, probably the most important thing about getting me to the C-suite. But I figured it out by myself. If somebody had told me this is what I needed to do, I could’ve got there so much faster.

Let me explain. Leadership, more than anything, is an inside game that requires trust. What I mean by that, trust is very key component of it, and we’re going to spend the majority of the episode talking about trust and the different types of trust I’m talking about. It’s very detailed explanation of what I mean by trust, because there’s lots of parts to what I mean.

But the insight game bit, but let me just tell you about that first. This is the bit I really had no idea about for so long and I wish somebody had told me. What I’m talking about here is that leadership is 80% what is going on in your head. You need to work on you first to become a great leader, because everything we do is governed by our unconscious behaviors. Now, I really learned about this in the first place when I started teaching, well learning first and then teaching about unconscious bias, which I did from the point of view of improving gender diversity in the field of high-performance computing. I got really into how we operate between fast and slow thinking as people talk about.

The fast thinking is the unconscious stuff. The fact that when you’re doing your grocery shop, you don’t every single time for every single item on your shopping list go, “Well, which variety of corn flakes should I have? Which variety of baked beans should you have?” You don’t make that choice every single time, you have your default. You’ve made the choice once, or maybe you watched your parents make that choice and you just keep making the same thing. If, for every single item on your shopping list, you consciously thought through the pros and cons of every single thing, you’d spend all day doing your grocery shop. You wouldn’t get anything else done. We have these unconscious behaviors, these choices that are built into us, that have built up through every single experience in our lives. Every unconscious choice you make, which is 99% of what you do every single day, it’s not just breathing. That’s a clearly unconscious behavior, breathing, heart beating. They just happen. We have to consciously choose to not breathe. But everything else we do, even just speaking, me speaking to you right here. I have some notes in front of me that I’m going to cover, but the way this is coming out is, on some level, very unconscious.

Now, the more we think about stuff, in general, the better we do. But you cannot think consciously all the time. It’s just not possible. One of the things I found very fascinating when I started learning about this was this is one of the things that really sets apart a lot of deep work academics. They will spend about two hours a day maximum doing that slow thinking. That’s where the breakthroughs happen, because we have to get past our assumptions in order to do that deep work that brings the breakthroughs. The majority of people don’t take the time to think this way, because we don’t need to most of the time. The problem is that when we do that as leaders, we have very little self-awareness, unless we’ve developed it, of what’s going on, why we make these unconscious choice, why we have actions that are dominant. We have no idea where even doing them half the time.

I’m not saying that you need to always move into a conscious, slow thinking state. You wouldn’t get anything done. What I am saying is you need to work on it. You need to understand what’s going on. Here’s the cruncher about this: We talk a lot about natural-born leaders, and yes, some people naturally step up to lead a team, but that isn’t actually leadership. That is feeling frustrated and having a natural affinity for being okay being in charge. That isn’t natural leadership. There is no such thing as great natural leadership. There is no such thing as a real true natural-born leader. You are not born with the skillset that I’m talking about. This ability to really understand your unconscious choices, your unconscious actions, the things that you do without even noticing them. You are not born with that skill. It is something you have to learn.

I want you to let go of the idea that you’re either a great leader because you’re natural at it, I’m not saying you’re not a great leader, but let go of the that, “Well, I’ve always led, therefore I must be good at it.” That’s not true, my love. I hate to break it to you. Also, if you’re the person saying, “Well, I can’t lead because I’m not a natural leader.” That’s also not true. Because what we view as natural leadership is not true leadership.

All about having that one out of the way for now. Before we get into what I really want you to focus on today, which is this inside game that requires trust, let me explain why I am actually doing this episode today. I think it’s kind of important. I’ve had a number of conversations in the last week, where people are done with 2020. It’s understandable. This year has thrown us just such a curve ball in multiple ways. It’s not just the pandemic, pivoting online, the fact that … And I’m just focusing on work side of things here, not the personal side of things, but the fact that as our organizations have pivoted online, we’ve had to deal with moving the majority of our conversations to email, to Slack, to video conferencing. We’ve moved our traditional conferences to webinars, and we’re trying to do all that stuff while maintaining what we were doing before.

But while many organizations are applauding the efforts that our teams are putting in and totally appreciative of the hard work that their staff are bringing to the table, honestly, there’s a lack of real results, because we aren’t figuring out how to guide change, how to lead remotely, how to influence remotely, how to build effectiveness while working remotely. That is one of the reasons why so many of us are kind of done with 2020. After all, how do you keep your team engaged and motivated, energized, inspired, accountable without that being also in your own head? If you, as a leader, are struggling to do this very thing, how on earth can you expect your team to feel the way you want them to be? It’s a chicken and egg situation, because one of the reasons you’re feeling like you’re struggling perhaps is because your team aren’t showing up the way you need to have them show up. How are you supposed to fix yourself so that you can fix your team when part of the problem is your team? And we get into this horrible, hot mess.

That’s really why I want to talk about this topic today. Not to blame anybody here. I don’t think anybody expected 2020 to play out the way it has done. Even the epidemiologists who were warning that a pandemic was coming for the last decade, I didn’t think anybody expected us, as a species, to respond in the way we have. But we are where we are, right? What can we do about it?

Well, one of the things is just our addressing how we’re feeling. I’m seeing so many people feeling that there’s more deception, more distrust, they’re feeling more worthless, potentially. Has this really increased? It’s an interesting question. So far, I would say there’s no evidence it has, but what has increased is our inability to step away from work. We’re living a truly blended life of working from home and being home, homeschooling, dealing with everything at home, all at home all the time. The boundaries between work and life, even our hobbies, some of our hobbies have completely gone. I’m certainly a bit of a hermit, so I have dropped a lot of my hobbies. The things that I used to use to get me out in about, they’re just gone.

It’s very easy for me accidentally to spend more time at my laptop. I know so many of us are feeling the same way. The problem becomes when this turns into accidental work-a-holics. We have this feeling to be busy all the time because we don’t know what else to do. That means that we’re getting close to burnout. We are then seeing deception and mistrust when there is an innocent explanation. I’m seeing this all the time with my clients. One of the things I do with clients is I’m always challenging. I’m always like, “Well, I can see five other explanations for what has happened.” Most of us don’t have the luxury of having somebody pointing out to us the alternative explanations.

Let’s talk about how can we step away from those feelings? How can we learn to have balance? How can we feel the need for inspiration, feeling encouraged, but also not burning out? How can we make sure that we’re influencing our team positively without working all the hours? And more importantly, what does that mean for us? How to avoid what can otherwise feel like inevitable burnout coming down the road? Because yes, all of this is connected.

Let’s go back to what I was originally talking about, the fact that leadership is an inside game that requires trust. It’s time to find yourself, level with yourself, understand your unconscious emotions, reactions, and experiences. The things that the majority of humans don’t even know they do, but they influence everything and everybody around us. When we work on that, we become better leaders. We actually become better friends, better spouses, better parents, better daughters. We become better people because we understand ourselves, we have more confidence, and then we’re able to better interact with other people around us.

Today’s episode is one of being a mindset shift. I normally have a bit at the end that’s the leadership mindset moment. Well, for the rest of this episode, we’re 100% on the leadership mindset. Here’s the mindset shift I want to help you make: Trust. Because to be a great and inspiring leader, you need mindset and communication. Communication obviously includes the influence, your presence, your strategy, and all the things that you’re communicating and how you bring that to the leadership table. But mindset, mindset is what you bring to the table. Trust in yourself and your abilities, the fact that burnout isn’t inevitable, trust that you are doing good work. This is all mindset stuff. Trust that you are doing enough. Trust that you’re doing the right thing and not second guessing all the time. This trusting yourself is a huge part of trust. Trust that you’re able to make decisions. Trust that you’re good at what you do.

Because yeah, as you rise up, by the way, you will get less praise. This is one of the things that so many of my clients struggle with. I certainly struggle with it as well. Is that the higher up you get, the less praise you get, the less well done, the less gold stars. You basically get a point where the only time you get feedback is when it’s bad. And you’re like, “Oh, got silence. That’s a good thing.” But tackling that, handling that emotionally requires so much trust. I see so many people failing, and actually quite a lot of people come to work with me because they aren’t able to cope with that, and we have to work on the inner trust first so that they can manage that situation.

Don’t get me wrong. I would love it if you, as a senior leader, gave positive feedback to your other senior leaders. Absolutely. We’ve got to fix that too. But the reality is, you’re probably not getting as much feedback as would be helpful. Trust that you’ve got this. Trust that you are a mother, spouse, friend, worker, leader, volunteer. Trust that you are a good person. This is what I struggled with this year. I’ve had a few things go a little bit AWOL, go a little bit wrong. And there’ve been a few points where I’ve really doubted that I’m a good person. I know I always turn up with good intentions though, so I can quickly get back to that trust position. I know that I’m well-intentioned, I never intend to do harm. I always own up to my mistakes. That’s something I’m very passionate about. And so I can get back to my trust. There’s so many of us that really struggle that we’re a good person when something goes wrong. And trust that you are doing well.

The second part of trust, after we talk about ourselves and trusting ourselves, is trust in your team and those around you. You need your trust first in order to have trust in your team, which is why I started with that. I am seeing trust in teams eroded so much this year, though. We’re challenging ourselves every single day, because we are experiencing a new way of living. Things go wrong. We’re less likely to trust the people around us because it’s a different situation than what we’ve experienced before. It’s that unconscious experience. When we have lots of previous experiences that say, “Things work out in this situation,” we’re more likely to trust a situation unfolding. When everything is different, we have no unconscious evidence to rely on. Therefore our brains are shouting and screaming at us that you shouldn’t trust the situation.

The way I’m seeing this play out with the people I work with, with organizations I work with, is that trust within teams is being eroded. I think this is why we’re now seeing a doubling down with the remote work. Two things are going wrong a lot of the time. Some companies, what they’re doing is they’re desperately trying to get people back into offices because they’re feeling that they can’t trust their teams, even though those same companies, a couple of months ago were saying, “Oh gosh, our productivity’s so high. This is great. Working from home is a great thing.” They’re now feeling like they have to get people back in because they don’t have the frame of reference to trust their teams as things are unfolding. It’s simply because they don’t know, they don’t have any previous experience at this to trust it. As things are changing, and we’re in a rapidly changing world right now, they’re looking for reasons why things might not be going right. The things that they don’t know, the new stuff is the thing that damages the trust. What’s new? Working from home, even though we’re a good seven months into this pandemic.

The other way I’m seeing this playing out in organizations, and this is one that’s in the news is, a lot of organizations are doubling down on monitoring of their staff. They are putting in place apps, and monitoring, and are people logged into remote servers? Are they working? There is even talk of having webcams on to prove that you’re at work. That doesn’t improve productivity. It doesn’t improve buy-in. It damages trust. But that’s coming from a lack of trust. We’re seeing this play out in the big corporate world. These are big companies making these decisions. If you are making one of those decisions, you need to get on the phone with me because we need to unpick that. But that really worries me. I will give you a free coaching session if that is you making that decision, because I need to have a chat with you about the damage you were doing.

But that is why what I want you to learn to do is to start challenging your interpretation of what’s going on. That’s the inner work you need to do to start building trust in your team, even in unexpected situations. This is something I do with all my clients. A lot of my clients will come to me for strategy, to up level, learn leadership skills. They stay with me for this kind of work. The fact that they’ll tell me a situation that happened and they’ll tell me what they think was going on, and every single time I’ll be like, “Well, I think there are multiple explanations.” They get to a point where they’re like, “Well, I thought of these three things.” I’m like, “Great, fabulous. Now let’s calm you down.”

We’re human. Of course we get rattled, of course we get hurt, of course we get upset, but there are always lots of explanations. Challenge your immediate thoughts, challenge your immediate interpretations. Your gut instincts are normally pretty good because they are based on all your previous experiences. That unconscious response, that immediate gut instinct, is typically quite reliable. But if you’ve ever done any unconscious bias training, you’ll know that it’s unreliable when it’s a new situation. And 2020 is one big truckload of new situations. It’s time to push past your immediate assumption.

Always looks for things that are different. Here’s the key thing: When we make assumptions and when we’re in a place of stress, we’re more likely to have a negative assumption of a situation and we’re less easily challenged. This is a double whammy, triple whammy. Not only are we less trusting right now, but we’re more likely to see negative explanations that reinforce our lack of trust, and we’re less likely to accept people challenging us on that. This is a really tough time, and I recognize that. This is why this work is so important to start right now.

I want you to start actively assuming that your team, your peers, your organization is going to deliver on their word. Just that small change, that assumption, when you say to yourself, “I think they’re going to screw up here,” tackling yourself on that. Just trying to turn up with that attitude and challenging yourself when you’re not turning up with that attitude can have an astonishing difference in terms of company culture, the efforts, the results. It is simply one of the most important things you can do. There’s an assumption of trust first. Because when you start doing that, you are driving confidence that your team can deliver and it’s coming from you. It’s a snowball effect. They’re all seeing it in each other. You trust, they trust you, they trust each other. It’s a snowball.

If you are demonstrating that you don’t trust in your actions, in your words, in the way you have emails, in the way you are demonstrating accountability, that ripples throughout the organization, throughout your team, beyond your team even. Confidence that your team can deliver in a way that is unshakeable and unconditional is simply the most important requirement, the first requirement for a culture of trust. If your team is overworked, you are overworked. If they are overwhelmed, you are overwhelmed. Trust that your team can deliver. Give them the space to do that.

Because one of the other things I’m seeing going on this year is that as we’re worried about delivering remotely, working remotely, our culture of accountability is driving excessive processes. I touched on the software side of making sure you’re at work. That’s excessive accountability. The problem is that accountability shouldn’t come from there. Accountability should be about holding each other to account because you’re in it together, not because you all need to turn up and be online at 9:00 AM with no other options, you all need to make sure that you’re always fully dressed at 8:30 to deal with whatever. Life isn’t like that. We’re human. Things happen. If somebody works really well at crazy o’clock at night, then let them do that. Why do you need them to be working in a specific way?

By the way, I really don’t get companies that think that by being on your computer, you’re doing work, because in previous jobs where I’ve been really bored, I was very good at looking busy, but doing diddly squat, because I was so able to do the work that was required of me in a fraction of the time, that I could look busy. I’m sorry, but anybody who’s got a brain can look busy without doing any work. This whole idea that somehow excessive process is accountability is just not true.

The next one is unresolved conflict. This is getting harder for us to handle, especially with remote stuff, but uncomfortable conversations lead to a real fear. They lead to a lack of trust in the team because you’ve got conflict going on, potentially that you’re just not tackling. All that it does is leave our people on motivated. We have a low morale when things are going unresolved. We have a decrease in performance and productivity, which by the way, further damages trust. All of that also adds to increased absenteeism. You must resolve conflicts swiftly, promptly. They’re opportunities. They’re opportunities for improvement. They’re not somehow this awful thing that they’re made out to be. They might be uncomfortable, but it doesn’t need to be as uncomfortable as you’re making it out to be.

It is worth just remembering here that the majority of people are feeling they lack leadership guidance. This has been true for a long time. It has amplified this year. Our work environments don’t provide the space for proper training, and more to the point, implementation of great leadership, and so we’re having confusion amongst our teams. How that plays out, by the way, is apparent laziness, because our teams are not motivated because they don’t have clarity and guidance in the way they need, because they don’t have great leadership.

By the way, laziness is also a symptom of imposter syndrome, side note. Go and get on the waitlist for the imposter syndrome course.

But it’s really worth remembering that great leadership makes everything else easier. And when you have a lack of leadership and the lack of time to implement great leadership, it really damages performance, productivity, morale, all of the things that we want to be avoiding.

Okay, to finish this off, what I would love for you to do is dive into where you do and don’t trust yourself, and when you do and don’t trust your team. Here are some prompts for you to really unpick what you think is going on right now. Are you creating a culture of top-down, “You must do this,”? Do you see resistance and conflict and silos of work coming up? If you are, you aren’t trusting your team. Are you solving problems and trusting that you and your team can address difficult situations together, or are you solving problems on your own, or are you just not solving problems? Those are all symptoms of poor trust. Do you trust your ability to solve difficult situations? Do you trust your ability to provide conflict resolution? Have those uncomfortable conversations that are really opportunities. Are you scared of raising your hand and saying, “Hey hey, this is wrong. We need to do something about it.” Do you actively equip your team for success or are you scared of showing them your cards? Are you holding back information because you are scared of what they’ll do with it, or you think you’re going to overwhelm them or you think, “Well, they don’t need to know that yet,” or, “I haven’t fully made this decision,”? That can be a combination of both trusting yourself and trusting your team.

I’ve talked before about this need for real transparency and authenticity and leadership, holding back information is always damaging. There are very, very few things that really need to be kept secret. Do you regularly give both good and constructive feedback? By constructive, when people talk about negative feedback, I like to view it as constructive. Do you regularly give good and constructive feedback, or are you afraid of the outcomes? Do you bury difficult situations, or do you tackle them every day? The higher up you get in an organization, the more difficult situations you will be facing. If you are burying them, one: You’re not going to go any further in your career, and two: They always get worse. If you are struggling to tackle those difficult situations, you always push them down your to-do list, then you’re lacking trust in your ability to do that, or you’re lacking trust in your team to help you do that.

I would love for you to spend the time having an honest internal self-reflection. Going through those questions. Rewind the episode a couple of minutes. Go back through those questions, because if you want to become a great standout leader, if you want resilience and purposefulness, you want to avoid that burnout that otherwise might feel inevitable, you need to do this self-reflection work. It’s really, really important. The internal work is the foundation and key driver to great leadership.

That’s all for today’s episode. As I mentioned, we’ve just had one big mindset moment, so no leadership mindset moment for now. If you want more, check out the show notes available in your favorite podcast player or head over to ToniCollis.com/17. And I would love it if you left a review that helps us reach more people. So if you love what I’m talking about here, please go to your podcast player, iTunes and Stitcher in particular offer reviews, leave a review. And by the way, you might just win a free coaching call.

Until next time, remember to stay on your tech leadership game, follow your dreams, because the world really does need that uniqueness that you bring as a leading woman in tech.


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