Lean into the punches.
In part one of "What makes a leader," I offered the notion that leadership is less about characteristics but rather about the mindset that you bring - the underlying values that guide and shape how you engage as a leader. By leading with the mindset of bringing value, the leader delivers influence beyond technical knowledge but rather demonstrates what it means to have positive impact. That positive impact is what the people around the leader ultimately want to engage with - to be a positive force that has an impact.
Moving on to part II: I recently re-watched the 2004 movie, "Million Dollar Baby" starring Clint Eastwood and Hilary Swank. In the movie, Swank is a rough and tumble 30 year old wanting to find a new way after being ostracized by her family most of her life. She shows up at the gym where Clint Eastwood coaches and manages boxers hoping he'll take her on as a boxer. He wants nothing to do with her. But she keeps showing up. Keeps practicing. Stays persistent. Finally, Eastwood agrees to take her on and they embark in a great story of challenge and success.
As the training begins, Eastwood shares a lesson with Swank that is at the heart of the second part of this leadership series. Eastwood tells her, "Good boxers have to fight their natural instinct to lean away from punches. Good boxers lean into the punch."
As I enjoyed the movie, two key lessons kept popping out at me that directly relate to leadership in any work environment. The first is that leaders, like Swank, just keep showing up. And, like good boxers, learn how to lean into punches.
Just keep showing up: One of the great failures of leaders is what I call "snowflake leadership." Like a snowflake, these leaders melt under pressure. What great leaders do is keep showing up, keep trying, and persevere. Persevering through challenges are what define the great leaders of our time (and even the leaders you've never heard of). Perseverance leads to strong character, and strong character is what others seek to follow.
Lean into the punches: In conjunction with "showing up," great leaders also learn how to lean into the difficulty and challenges they face. This means taking on the tough challenges head on, not looking for the easy way out or the quick fix solution. Often, leaders attempt to deal with the symptoms and not the root challenges that are plaguing an organization. An example I see often is with ineffective meetings.
A client I recently worked with talked about how their weekly meetings were more like updates, were a waste of time, and everybody was frustrated with them. Instead of taking the time to work out the root challenges, they attempted several "quick fixes," like shortening the meeting, having one person create the agenda, and having everyone come with their own lists. These were not bad ideas, but they did not address what was at the heart of the dysfunction. The root was the inattention to results and lack of purpose to the meeting. These are much more difficult to address and "fix," as it will take time to change practices and the culture of the meetings, but the long term results will be much more significant than avoiding the root issues altogether.
Great leaders learn how to identify the root challenges they and others are facing and tackle those challenges head on. It removes boundaries for others and creates a clear path for success.
If you are interested in continued development as a leader, check out our upcoming leadership development program here.