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Why good leaders need to focus on their own development

By Shandel McAuliffe | |7 minute read
Why good leaders need to focus on their own development

When it comes to identifying good leaders, team engagement is arguably still the best measure we have. A highly engaged team reflects a manager’s ability to build trusting relationships with each of their team members. Based on Gallup’s extensive research, we know the buck stops with managers when it comes to engagement. In fact, the manager accounts for up to 70 per cent of the variance seen in employee engagement.


Given the significant influence managers have on their teams, let’s explore how best to ensure managers are set up for success.

Great leadership is a paradox

Often, especially early in one’s career, there is a temptation to model yourself based on a leader that you have previously experienced. Sometimes the leadership was good, other times (very often) not so good, but we naturally get anchored by our early experiences and start aligning our behaviour with them.

We all want to have a roadmap outlining what we need to do to become a good leader. The good news is, I’m going to provide you with a roadmap that will enable you to get to work, but before I do, I want to make it very clear that you need to let go of “trying” to be a leader. This is what I call the paradox of leadership. The harder you try, the worse your leadership will be. Similarly, the more you let go of being a leader (or your idea of what a leader should be), the closer you will get to demonstrating leadership.

Using sport as an analogy, the leadership paradox is a bit like generating power when kicking a field goal, serving an ace or landing a hole in one. When you get it right, your focus is on timing and precision rather than brute force. The most powerful shots always come with a surprising effortlessness that feels so right and true.

As with any form of mastery, you need to identify how you can deliver on your leadership promise in a way that is unique to you. When it comes to leadership and building a highly engaged team, the best leaders and managers I have worked with do the following.

  1. Serve themselves first: If you spend your career as a manager putting everyone around you first, you’ll end up disengaged and exhausted. It is tempting to provide all of the development opportunities to your team, but if you never invest in your own development as a leader your team will soon follow your lead. Many “selfless” leaders will tell their team to go home to spend time with their families while staying back late to plough through their work. They usually gain the trust of their team but they are also teaching them terrible habits about leadership. If you take the time to prioritise your development, rejuvenation, and exercise, your team will follow your lead and begin to do the same.
  2. Focus on their strengths: It might seem obvious to focus on our natural talents and abilities, but too often, leaders put aside their talents in favour of what they think they should be doing. This is a mistake. Instead, double down on your talents while managing your weaknesses. For every hour a manager spends focussing on their strengths they’ll get ten times the return of trying to improve a weakness.
  3. Lead with purpose: Up to 89 per cent of managers experience imposter syndrome, or the feeling of being a fraud, at some point in their career. I believe this is due to managers not being clear about why they do what they do, but also not being able to answer the question: “What do you really want?” Being laser focused on your purpose or what’s most important to you provides you with a guiding principle to make choices that support you. The conviction a leader feels when aligned with their purpose is unparalleled. In my experience, it is the x-factor that differentiates those that are good from those that become great.
  4. Keep calm and maintain perspective: We all have our moments of stress and challenge. Managers might expect the stress to get to a point where they start to derail. Rather than bunker down to weather the storm, ensure that you have support (a coach, mentor, or confidante) that can help you process the stress. I’m yet to meet a leader that can build trust and high performance while they are under excess pressure.

Joe Hart is the founder of True Perspective: A leadership development practice.

Shandel McAuliffe

Shandel McAuliffe

Shandel has recently returned to Australia after working in the UK for eight years. Shandel's experience in the UK included over three years at the CIPD in their marketing, marcomms and events teams, followed by two plus years with The Adecco Group UK&I in marketing, PR, internal comms and project management. Cementing Shandel's experience in the HR industry, she was the head of content for Cezanne HR, a full-lifecycle HR software solution, for the two years prior to her return to Australia.

Shandel has previous experience as a copy writer, proofreader and copy editor, and a keen interest in HR, leadership and psychology. She's excited to be at the helm of HR Leader as its editor, bringing new and innovative ideas to the publication's audience, drawing on her time overseas and learning from experts closer to home in Australia.

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