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  • BY ROBERTA NDLELA

Unlocking Leadership Potential in Yourself and Others

During the Industrial Revolution, the bottom line was the only focus. However, in the digital age, relationships, being people-focused have become the differentiator between exponential success and mediocre results for professionals, entrepreneurs or the organization itself. Leadership and the qualities associated with it are taking center stage, in addition to subject matter expertise.


Everything starts from within. Being a leader starts with you. Leadership is not just about position only, as it is about how you lead yourself. For example, if you take the initiative when improvements need to be made, if you suggest a potential solution to a problem or a way forward - that is displaying leadership qualities. The minute you unlock your own leadership potential, you are then capable of unlocking and seeing that in others.


What Does It Take To Be A Leader?

There are several elements that need to be in place for you to unlock your own leadership potential. These are:


  • Relationship-building

Stephen R. Covey once said, “Building and repairing relationships are long-term investments.”


Why is it important to build relationships? Where does it start?

The first point of reference for relationships is the one you have with yourself. How you see yourself matters way more than how others see you. How you treat yourself is the model for which others treat you. How you lead yourself is how you will lead others.

Communicate with and treat yourself with compassion, empathy and kindness. It begins within yourself. Once you have a habit of doing so within yourself, you are able to treat others the same way.


  • Communication

Part of being an effective leader is the ability to communicate effectively and clearly. 

George Bernard Shaw said, “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”


Just when we think we have communicated, it turns out that it is not effective enough, clear nor understood the way we intended. We call this “Intention vs Impact” conundrum of communication.


Everyone who knows me knows that I have a soft spot for The Platinum Rule. All along we had known The Golden Rule, which is ‘treat others the way you want to be treated.’ 

The Platinum Rule takes it a step further, especially when it comes to communication:

‘Communicate with others the way that THEY prefer to be communicated to.’


  • Trust

Think of someone that you label as trustworthy.

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When last did someone call you ‘trustworthy’?

Why do you have this perception of them? How do they behave? When last did someone call you ‘trustworthy’? How does it feel to know that there is a person you can trust, can rely on and they are consistent in their actions?


When you trust yourself, you are able to recognize the qualities of someone who can be trusted as well. Characteristics such as consistency, competence, accountability and respect for boundaries are some of the behaviors that demonstrate that trust can be built and maintained. 


If you develop these traits within yourself, you can lead others on a path where they can strengthen these within themselves. In such an environment, everyone who is involved can unlock their leadership potential and realize massive success.


  • Accountability

How many of us have heard the phrase, “accountability is like kryptonite to some.” 

Accountability means the willingness to accept responsibility for your actions. Accountability can be quite challenging because not only does it require humility and letting go of the mask that you wear based on how you want to be perceived, it also requires making restitution wherever possible. 


If you get accustomed to being accountable for your actions, especially when in a leadership position, you can step up to the plate and also be accountable for your team’s actions and performance. Passing the buck is not on the cards as it may erode trust in your leadership capabilities. 

Accountability can be quite challenging because not only does it require humility and letting go of the mask that you wear based on how you want to be perceived, it also requires making restitution wherever possible. 

  • Self-awareness

If you don’t know yourself, your strengths and weakness, how you respond when triggered and how others experience you, take the time to invest in yourself and learn who and how you truly are. Whether it be online quizzes, personally asking those closest to you for feedback - being a leader means being aware of the impact that your actions and decisions have on yourself and others.


As you become self-aware, you are able to adapt to your team’s needs and develop a curiosity about them that will have you listening to them instead of making assumptions. It also helps you recognize traits in your team that you might have not been privy to, how well you listened to them and so forth. 


  • Conflict resolution

With the advent of social media and a cesspool of keyboard warriors constantly

throwing darts at each other online, as a species we are becoming less inclined to have healthy conflict resolution skills.


With every other characteristic mentioned in this article, how you deal with conflict starts from within. If there is chaos within yourself, if there is no harmony, you are not likely to handle conflict in an emotionally intelligent manner. Here are 3 suggestions for developing conflict resolution skills over time:

Unlocking Leadership Potential in Yourself and Others
Unlocking Leadership Potential in Yourself and Others
  • focus on the issue, rather than personal attacks or character assassinations

  • be solution-driven, not problem-driven

  • as they say, ‘seek to understand before seeking to be understood.’ 


  • Adaptability

Technology and the covid-19 virus that had the entire globe on lockdown, continue to demonstrate how volatile and uncertain these times are. The leadership fraternity has coined the term VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous). 


If you are able to navigate and adapt during these times, you will have the skills to help those you lead adapt as things constantly change at the speed of light. When I taught English in South Korea, adapting to an environment that did not even speak my language, it was fascinating to observe different teachers from other countries and how they handled these ‘out-of-my-comfort-zone’ scenarios. 


Whether you stay and learn to adapt or fly back to your home country because it’s familiar, the point remains that even familiar environments become unfamiliar with everything changing so fast. Therefore, you will greatly benefit by learning to adapt, hone the necessary skills, keep abreast with world changes and whatever tools that are available in order to swim rather than fear sinking.


  • Empathy

The word ‘empathy’ continues to be thrown around, to the extent where some even label themselves ‘empaths’. Empathy essentially means ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another’. 


As a leader, it might be challenging to have empathy for your team, if you are not accustomed to having it for yourself during challenging times or painful experiences. Ironically, some do not usually gravitate towards having compassion for themselves. If they are hard on themselves, they most likely will be hard on others. As a branch of the emotional intelligence tree, empathy also starts within, before demonstrating it to others when the situation calls for it.


As a leader, it might be challenging to have empathy for your team, if you are not accustomed to having it for yourself during challenging times or painful experiences.


CONCLUSION

I recently had a guest on the podcast, a leadership expert who coaches managerial leaders. He recommends that every leader needs to ask their team members for “best advice”. 


That means creating an open environment where they can bring their best creative and innovative ideas to the table. Those ideas may not necessarily be accepted all the time.


However, having a leader trust you to do so is paramount to developing your own leadership qualities. Therefore, those team members’ leadership potential is unlocked over time.


In order to unlock your leadership potential and subsequently that of others, it is easy to recognize that many of the traits mentioned above are service-oriented.


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Meet the expert:

Roberta Ndlela Podcast Host and Soft Skills Trainer
Roberta Ndlela Podcast Host and Soft Skills Trainer

I spent 15 years in corporate South Africa mostly in the engineering sector and noticed how the lack of soft skills programs in college / university does a disservice to professionals when they enter the workforce. Having interviewed over 200 Leadership experts on the Speaking and Communicating Podcast for almost 3 years, leadership as we know it is being turned on its head. It’s no longer business as usual.


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