In this episode, leadership and performance coach Cillín Hearns explores what it means to be a leader and how to advance your leadership skills regardless of your current role or level.

Cillín Hearns

Cillín Hearns

Leadership and performance coach with Setanta Consulting

Cillín Hearns is a leadership and performance coach helping business and IT professionals become more successful in their roles.  Cillín is also a frequent speaker at IIBA and PMI events.

After listening to this episode, you'll understand:

  • What leadership really is (hint: It’s not what you think)
  • Why our brains run on automatic so much
  • The shift you need to make to move toward leadership
  • How to grow and develop your leadership skills

Show Notes

Real leadership has to start from within. It’s what’s known as authentic leadership. Leadership is about being, doing, and saying. Before you can do and say, you must be. That requires self-awareness, awareness of the impact you have on others, on your environment and the impact that others and your environment have on you.

When you have that awareness, conscious choice comes into play. This drives how you want to be . . . how you want to show up tomorrow, in your next meeting, with your team, or with your family. Instead on running on automatic, conscious choice means that you have the ability to decide to be the best that you can be.


Running on Automatic
People are wired to default to automatic behaviors. The brain is inherently lazy; if you have a strategy that has worked in the past, your brain will tell you to reuse that strategy rather than waste cognitive energy to come up with a new solution.

If we had to re-think every encounter, decision, and situation, we wouldn’t be able to function as efficiently as we do. The brain creates shortcuts that allows us to very rapidly make decisions based on the information available to us.


Cillín’s Philosophy of Leadership
The definition of leadership doesn’t come from a book or from a class. You need to find their own vision of what leadership means to you, otherwise the definition won’t be the truth for you. Leadership must come from within.

Some people might focus on getting things done while others may focus on inspiring others. It comes down to what you’re passionate about and following your passion. Reflect on your passions and what kind of impact you want to have on the world or on your team.

This is leadership at any level, regardless of your title or authority. You don’t need a title to be a leader. When you behave in certain ways, you’re true to your values, and you have a vision, people will naturally start to follow you. That’s real leadership.

You need certain skills to do the job as you move up in an organization’s hierarchy, be it technical skills, financial skills, or whatever else you might need in that role. But with that, you also need the soft skills – skills that will motivate people and get people to want to follow you.


The Halo Effect
If you do a great job, you may find yourself promoted to managing teams or individuals. You may even start managing those who have knowledge and experience outside of your expertise. They may come to you with questions for which you don’t know the answer.

Unless you make a mental shift, you won’t be successful in that new role. You will have been promoted to a level of incompetence. Instead of continuing to rely in your technical leadership and expertise as you have done in the past, shift your thinking to helping people solve their own problems. Be able to step back and get comfortable with not knowing the answer all of the time. Rather than solving everyone’s problems, help them solve the problems themselves. Have the trust and faith that they can do that.


Are Leaders Born or Made?
While I honestly believe that leadership is a skill that can be practiced and developed, we do see some natural leaders. People can develop leadership skills primarily due to the environment in which they grew up. Exposure to others with strong leadership skills who communicates with you as a good leader would, you may begin to communicate in a similar way. To you, it’s not trying to be a leader, this is simply how people behave.

If you weren’t exposed to those leadership personas during your formative years or if the strategies you used as a child don’t work in the adult world, that’s where self-reflection comes in. The ability to step back and create an awareness of why you’re doing the things you’re doing and what outcomes you’re experiencing. If you want different and better outcomes, you need to change what you’re doing.


Grow Your Leadership Skills
You may want to develop your leadership skills to be better in your current role or for career advancement. Start by understanding your strengths and what you’d like to improve.

Models and assessment such as DISC can help you to understand your own behaviors and how we prefer to do things such as communicate, manage risk, manage stress, etc. Once we understand ourselves, we can start to look at others and potentially understand why others are behaving the way they are. This will help you influence better outcomes.

Once we understand our own behaviors and style and begin to notice the style of others, we can begin to adapt to the needs of others. You can start to flex your style to better influence them to get the outcome you want.

We can’t (and don’t want to) change who we are. We’re merely flexing our style at times to better communicate and interact with people who have different styles. That’s the beginning of influencing.


Knowing is Not Enough
It starts with knowing yourself and others, but that’s only the beginning. You need to practice observation and adapting over and over until it becomes second nature. Knowledge alone is not power. The application of knowledge is where the power is.

Once you begin to be able to influence and lead others to a desired outcome, that’s when you start being recognized as a leader.

There are other skills that you need when leading a team. You’ll need to know how to build a team and bring them together, how to create a common set of values, and create a common understanding of how you will work together as a team. It’s also critical to create a common goal or vision that the entire team wants to achieve.


Your Homework

Your homework is simple; work on being more aware of your thoughts and behaviors and the outcomes you’re experiencing as a result.  That way, you can take time to reflect and understand your personality and how you are being perceived.  That awareness will allow us to make a conscious choice to be the best we can be.


What’s your take?

Have you ever worked with a great leader?  What behaviors and skills did they have?  Do you have any tips to improve leadership skills? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.


Links mentioned in this episode:

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