Courage, Humility, and Discipline – three must-haves of a great leader!

If there is anything constant in the world it is change and this rate of change continues to escalate at an exponential rate. The fact is that pace of change that we are witnessing today is the slowest that we will ever witness in our life!

In this VUCA world where volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity is the norm rather than an exception, leaders needs sound strategies to be able to confront reality and steer themselves and their organisations to success. The pre-requisite, for being a good leader, is to have the qualities of courage, humility and discipline as these are the qualities which distinguish exceptional leaders from mediocre ones. These are the qualities that you need not only to lead but also to remain relevant in the throes of change as leadership is not something static but is dynamic and needs to evolve with changing times.

As I progress with my coaching assignments, I have begun to realise the importance of learnings from my session with Dr Marshall Goldsmith (who is ranked among the world’s foremost leadership thinkers and executive coaches) about the virtues of Courage, Humility and Discipline. Dr Marshall Goldsmith not only believes that these three are the must-have characteristics for great leaders but also mentions that among the leaders he coaches, Courage, humility and discipline are the three qualities that differentiate those who have improved the most!

Courage

No one is complete and competent in all respects, everyone has chinks in their armour. The one who realises this, is the one who will dare to do something about it. To realise, one needs courage to get feedback and to honestly look at themselves in the mirror. To face your inner most fears, to face the change, discover blind spots, ask for and seek feedback and to act on the same, even if it may not be to one’s liking, needs immense courage. Courage is about confronting your weakness(es) and devising strategies do work on the identified weaknesses. Courage is about getting out of your comfort zone and doing things that feel uncomfortable (e.g. asking for feed-forward suggestions from others, or raising difficult conversations). Great leaders have immense courage.

Humility

If you are wanting to get better, then you have to start by accepting that you are not perfect. Humility is acknowledging the work that needs to be done to change and grow, not to let ego come in the way of this process of change, and therefore growth and to accept one’s areas of improvements. Humility involves letting go of your ego and focusing on how to change your own behaviour to make your team and workplace more effective. Besides, it needs a lot of humility to take a Coach and more importantly to believe that someone who may not necessarily be better than you at what you do but can still help in achieving the desired outcome of the coaching engagement. The job of Coach is to observe and make you realise all that needs to change and then hand-hold you in the process of change, not necessarily being better than you at what you do. Any learning journey is a humbling experience as the realization dawns that there is no much that you didn’t know or didn’t realise or how you could have done things differently to be even more effective. It is also a highly rejuvenating experience once the positive behaviours start building, but one needs the humility to make the start.

Discipline

Discipline is the third pillar for adopting any change or learning anything new. It is the ability to commit your time and energy to the outcome being pursued, in a quantum commensurate with what you are expecting to achieve. To be able to devote yourself to a learning journey, which when it comes to behaviors is mostly preceded by a phase on unlearning, needs a lot of commitment and discipline. You need to get out of your comfort zone again and again to re-learn behaviours, before you get from a stage of unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence. Discipline relates to consistently implementing effective behaviours until they get ingrained in your neural paths and become a habit. To be a great leader, you have to have the discipline to follow up and do the hard work to keep getting better.

Self-reflect and see if you have the courage, humility and discipline to be a great leader! If you see a scope for improvement then before working on any other behaviour or outcome, commit to work on these three traits which is really the foundation, with a Coach you trust!

Competency frameworks that work!

Competencies are a set of positive behaviours that we display as individuals – it is a combination of our knowledge, experience, skills, attributes, and attitudes, as reflected in the way we conduct ourselves. It is an important aspect of organisational building and culture, as the identified set of competencies define the knowledge, traits, or behaviours that organisations expect to see in their employees.

Every organisation understands what competencies they need and most have documented these in their HR manuals. Many organisations have a set of core competencies that they want each employee to display and another set of some additional competencies, which may be more role or position based. Typically, the core competencies range anywhere from between 8 to 10, while there are another 4 or 5 which are listed as position/role based competencies.

Some of these may be technical competencies, while others are behavioural competencies. Technical competencies are one’s knowledge of a specific subject and its application to the job at hand and these are typically those that are acquired as part of one’s education or can be very effectively imparted by training in a one-to-many setting.

Behavioural competencies, on the other hand, are more difficult to acquire and imbibe. In such cases, more than training, it is coaching or mentoring which works. Typically, the intervention in trainings is limited to couple of days, which certainly takes the employee to a new high towards building the behavioural competency, but it is extremely difficult for the employee to sustain that high, after the initial few days. Positive behaviour change is about relaying the neural path in a way that the response to any stimuli, takes the newly laid neural path and manifests in a positive behaviour, as a preferred response at most times – first consciously and then, even unconsciously. Such behaviour change needs handholding and regular reminders and intervention over a sustained period, which is exactly the reason that coaching works better.

In one of the studies, involving a large sample of international organisations, it was not surprising to note that behavioural competencies outweigh technical competencies by 2:1 – almost 70% of the total listed competencies were behavioural competencies! It is important for L&D departments of various organisations to keep this in mind while designing competency development frameworks, as it will be important to answer whether, training or coaching/mentoring would work better for each competency.

Competency frameworks in most organisations (except the large ones) have only gone the first step, which is to identify and list the competencies required, and some may have moved to the next step of explaining in a couple of sentences what a specific competency means. However, not much material is available within organisations, to provide guidelines on how to develop a specific competency. This is pretty much left to the individual concerned and it is not surprising to see the same few competencies coming up as development areas for certain individuals in appraisal after appraisal.

Employees hardly get any specific feedback on what set of actions should they take to build a competency. In particular, development of behaviour competencies need sustained effort, hence it makes sense for employees looking at growth opportunities to start developing the desired competencies for the next role, well ahead of time.

It is not only desirable but necessary for organisations to construct and implement a competency framework which should include, at least the following:

  • Defining each Competency
  • Skill scale for each competency – what does ‘skilled’ vs ‘unskilled’ mean, in the context of each competency? Explain how ‘skilled’ and ‘unskilled’ manifest at work for each competency
  • List competencies required for each position
  • Be transparent, let the employees know the competencies expected for not only their current role but also, their possible next role
  • Learning framework for each Competency for L&D department (to ensure higher ROI on training dollars, rather than going for one size fits all, assess what works better – training or coaching?)
  • Most importantly, prepare a DIY Handbook for employees for each competency (projects/assignments to help develop each competency, suggested readings – books, articles, and videos or short courses to develop each competency in bite-size helpings)

The above is a short yet powerful list, for building a competency framework which will eventually help create a learning organisation. In such organisations, one would expect employees to take ownership of their competency development to further their careers, rather than their Managers or the HR function. Employees should be the one chasing their managers to put them on assignments, projects, continuing education, coaching programs which will help develop the competencies required for the next promotion.

It will be great to hear your views and to understand if your organisation has a competency framework that works! Else, it will be a pleasure to help your organisation develop such a framework.

Confront procrastination and enhance productivity with the Pomodoro Technique

In a MOOC on Coursera, interestingly titled “Learning How to Learn”, I was introduced to the Pomodoro technique to counter procrastination and enhance productivity. The word ‘Pomodoro’ in Italian means Tomato – named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that it’s developer, Francesco Cirillo used.

Pomodoro is an extremely simple technique where you just get started with a task and fully concentrate on the same for 25 minutes. Why 25 minutes? No one can answer that. Possibly because it’s long enough to contribute to the task at hand but short enough to not look too daunting. If you have a task that you have been putting off (for me, it is normally doing presentations!), just set yourself a 25-minute timer and get going. Don’t worry too much about where you will start as far as the task is concerned but just start doing it – if it’s a presentation, start with writing your thoughts, explore presentation templates you may want to use, then make a slide or two, even if one of them is a ‘Contents’ slide but just get going!

For these 25 minutes, make sure to stay away from your phone, emails, coffee breaks and any other ‘procrastination friendly errands’. Set everything on silent mode and fully concentrate on the job at hand. Believe me, you will surprise yourself on how effectively this works. Also, remember to take that well-deserved 5 minute break after 25 minutes, before you set yourself up for another Pomodoro.

Try it and I promise that you will make it a part of your routine and your calendar will be peppered with Pomodoros!