Why the Best Leaders Look at Challenges as Opportunities

Business challenge and risk concept

Overcoming complex challenges can be tough. You’ll have moments when you feel your only option is to give up. Doubt, stress, and obstacles can come in intense waves. Challenges, especially as a leader, are a journey with many steep mountains. 

But if you want to be a successful leader- the sort you were created to be, it requires looking at challenges as opportunities. Because the best leaders know challenges are opportunities wrapped in ugly wrapping paper. 

The best leaders know challenges are opportunities wrapped in ugly wrapping paper. 

To take this idea even a step further, approach challenges not as something you have to deal with, not even as something you get to deal with, but as something you choose to solve. 

In research by LearnLoft, we have found that there are a set of common challenges that leaders face regardless of industry. While they are typically described differently with varying symptoms and players, the root of the issues remains the same. These eight challenges are faced by middle to upper managers pretty uniformly. 

So what are these opportunities wrapped up as challenges in ugly wrapping paper?

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1. Inspiring Others

This challenge is number one because inspiration is the core difference between managers and leaders. Managers use authority and titles to demand behavior while leaders inspire action. 

2. Redefining Culture 

Another challenge facing leaders today is redefining their culture amidst remote & hybrid work. Redefining and maintaining an elite culture is difficult but ultimately attainable. 

3. Meeting the Needs of Team Members

The challenge of consistently trying to meet every team member’s needs and expectations is wildly complicated. If that weren’t enough, the number of direct reports leaders now are responsible for has increased by 25% or more on average. This means devoting adequate time to more people is hard. 

4. Enabling Change

The challenge of opening people’s hearts and minds to different ways of thinking and behaving than they are previously accustomed to is difficult because we are wired to resist change. However, every industry is in a state of transformation, so change is required to stay ahead or advance past the competition. 

5. Developing Skills

Whitney Johnson, Author of Smart Growth, highlighted developing people as a significant leadership challenge. She told me, “People want to grow. They want more because the Great Resignation is really the Great Aspiration. Leaders have the humility to grow themselves to grow their people.” There is nothing easy about coaching skills and creating new opportunities for people to develop. If this is a struggle for you, check out the upcoming Coaching for Excellence workshop. 

6. Recruiting Talent

The challenge of recruiting talented people is evergreen. However, there isn’t a leader I have coached or trained in the last twelve months that isn’t concerned with recruiting more than they used to be. The labor shortage has hit nearly every industry.

7. Creating an Excellent Team 

A challenge for any leader is to bond people together to accomplish more than they can on their own. A team, by definition, is a group of people that come together to achieve a common goal. While it might sound simple, it’s anything but, especially in remote work and mental health crises. 

8. Unlocking Elite Execution 

A significant opportunity for any leader is improving daily execution. Monte Peterson, Principle of CDA Group and expert in all things execution said it well, “For as much as people talk about execution and claim it as the reason their organization’s plan was met with failure for yet another year, it just proves that not many really understand it.” 

9. Avoiding Burnout 

The most emerging challenge facing leaders today is avoiding burnout in themselves and their team. There is immense pressure from the C-Suite to increase results faster. While speed is essential, it also causes burnout. 

When leaders solve these nine challenges they will have more fulfilled, engaged, and productive team members. 

How to Begin to Solve These Leadership Challenges

Solving some or all of these will require ongoing effort, strategy, and modifications. Here are a few solid ideas to help you in the short term. 

Earn Trust and Strengthen Relationships

Leadership has always been about relationships, but trust-based relationships are more important than ever. Remote and hybrid work has made it increasingly difficult to have authentic and genuine relationships built on the bond of mutual trust.  

Great leaders build authentic and genuine relationships built on the bond of mutual trust. 

In Building the Best, I wrote about a way to build trust called “The Trust Compound Theory.” This means you get the opportunity to develop stronger bonds of mutual trust by sharing your competence, showing you care, and exposing your character. 

Empower Others to Solve Problems

You will solve more problems and overcome challenges faster and more effectively if you empower others to make decisions. The word empower means “to give control over another’s life and the authority to do something.” So often, managers do the opposite of empowering. They micromanage when challenges arise. 

Suppose you want to get better at empowering your people and inviting them into the problem-solving process. In that case, it starts with making them aware that solving problems is a part of their job responsibility regardless of their title. 

Make team members aware that solving problems is a part of their job responsibility regardless of their title. 

Come up with a Maximizing Mantra for the Year

There will always be priorities and market changes that grasp your people’s attention. With as fast as the business world is moving, we are past the point of being able to have a one-item execution list. 

However, you can create a maximizing mantra to create consistent energy on a team or company. A Maximizing Manta is a short and simple phrase that provides clarity, is action-oriented, and is fun. A few of my favorite examples include:

  • Let’s Go
  • Move the Needle
  • Row the Boat

When you or your team come up with a Mantra for the rest of this year, please put it on walls, T-shirts, or slack channels. Use it to keep it in the forefront of your people’s eyes and hearts. 

Recommit to Core Values 

Take a lesson from Meta’s CEO, Mark Zuckerburg. After two decades of running one of the largest tech companies in the world, they have reset and added new core values to help prepare for a more distributed, more honest, and faster future. 

On a recent episode of the Tim Ferris Podcast, Zuckerberg said, “One of the things that I’ve always found is you can … get an organization and a team through almost any challenge as long as you can maintain good cohesion.”

He outlined five refreshed core values and precisely what they meant to him and his team at Meta. 

Reward and Recognize Effort

One of the biggest reasons teams consistently face the same challenges is because leaders are too critical of their team. Instead of encouraging them to persevere and looking for new and better ways to solve problems, they judge.  

People tend to shut down and give less than their maximum effort when this happens. While there are places for critical feedback and tough conversations, more leaders must start rewarding and recognizing the positive effort team members demonstrate daily. 

Leaders must start rewarding and recognizing the positive effort team members demonstrate daily. 

A great trick for this is to give at least three positive comments to every critical one.  

Closing

If there has ever been a time to turn challenges into opportunities, it’s right now.  

It’s my hope these strategies will help you turn your team or organization run toward these opportunities because that’s precisely what the best do.  

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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

Want to Be a Leader in the Future? Use This Time Wisely.

Stopwatch Clock Time Countdown Graphic Words

Right now, you’re stuck in time like no one has ever seen.

It is not news that we are currently living in a world of unprecedented challenges; one that is seemingly stuck at a point in time that most people want to get past. At best, we can work from our homes; at worst we are no longer employed or have a job that requires us to put ourselves in grave danger. 

Regardless of how the unexpected turn of events from the Coronavirus has impacted you or your career, it has most likely brought on feelings of hopelessness or doubt about the future. It’s an essential time to remember the wise words from Victor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning; “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.”

We don’t control the events; we control our response. 

Instead of giving in to the feelings of desperation and focusing on the monotony of these days on end, open your eyes to the opportunities that this pandemic may lend us. The best leaders use this time, to be successful in the future. It’s what I have started to refer to as “Grind Time.” Here are some ways the best leaders are using their grind time and so can you.

Reinvest in relationships

Relationships with other people are the lifeblood of our life on earth. Research shows that good relationships help people live longer. People in healthy long term relationships are 50% less likely to die earlier. For any relationship to add a lot of value to your life, career (yours or others’) it requires the investment of time.  

Scott Miller reminded me during an interview that, “relationship building requires an effectiveness, not an efficiency mindset.” In the last few weeks, this has come to life during hour-long family walks without my phone. I have been amazed at how effective this has been for my relationship with my wife and kids. The results of being fully present will improve the quality of your relationships to a degree that will shock you.

If you are leading a team at work, your people will absolutely remember how you made them feel in times of crisis. They will remember how much you cared about them and the time you gave them. 

Develop your skills

Your skills and your ability to perform them at high levels are at the center of performance. Webster defines a skill as; the ability to use one’s knowledge effectively and readily in execution or performance. Clearly, there is a difference in acquiring knowledge and acquiring skills.

For example, you could know how to read music, but be unable to translate that knowledge into playing an instrument. You could understand the proper mechanics in hitting a golf ball, but your score after your very first round of golf might not reflect that.  

Now is the time to develop your skills. Tom Bilyeu said it so well during an interview with Patrick Bet-David on Valuetainment, “Money only monetizes once, but your skills can be monetized over and over and over.”

But don’t stop at developing your skills during this time. Help others develop their skills as well. Focus not only on the technical skills but, most importantly on leadership skills that are crucial for team members—things such as positivity, emotional intelligence, communication, and growth mindset.  

Focus attention on innovation

Innovation starts with the mindset of the leader. Innovation is defined as a new idea, creative thoughts, new imaginations in the form of device or method. I summarize it as “finding better solutions.” 

During a recent episode of the Pessimist Archive Podcast, host Jason Feifer mentioned that, “big companies are designed to be good at themselves. It stops inventing and starts refining. When the world begins to change, they end up defending the turn.” 

The best leaders are using the current decline or increase in available time to find better answers to problems, or seeking new and better ways of doing something. They aren’t limiting it to themselves; they are inspiring innovation with their people. One of the leaders I studied for Building the Best is having a “weekly innovation meeting” with his team over Zoom. During this time the team members brainstorm ideas for improving their processes, procedures, and offerings to clients.  

The ideas are not all good, but he has been amazed at the problems and improvements his team has come up with to help the company’s future.  

Closing

You have the power to change the course of your days from one of monotony and tedium to one of opportunity and development. Now is the time when you grind; reinvest in your relationships, focus on innovation, and develop your skills. Today is when you get to start anew.  

What’s Your Leadership Style? Join over 40k leaders and discover your current leadership style for free.

About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company making virtual training easy and effective. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of  Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success and host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

The Unconventional Way Great Leaders Show Their People They Care

We were at the point in the workshop when participants begin feeling uncomfortable. One participant raised his hand and stated, “John, call me a little old school, but I refuse to know my people on a personal level or treat them anything like my family because the day might come when I have to let them go. I don’t want to make it awkward or deal with the feelings of having to let go of someone I care a lot about.”

While on the surface, his logic made sense, he couldn’t have been more wrong. The best leaders build trust with their people. Part of that trust is knowing they are cared for and loved by their boss. Yes, I used the word love, but not in any HR violation kind of way. Love is a component to elevate other people which is critical to be a successful leader today. I define love in Building the Best as “to contribute to someone’s long-term success and well being.”

Don’t just take my word for it. Researchers at the University of Berkley studied what motivates productivity in professionals. When people felt recognized for the work they did, they were 23% more effective and productive. But what’s even more astonishing is that when people felt valued and cared for, their productivity and effectiveness experienced a 43% increase. While recognition is essential, there is an additional 20% jump by in performance by showing your people you care for them. 

How to Show You Care

For your team to understand how much you care about them, you must reject the notion that words hold great power. In this case, talk is cheap. Your power comes from your actions. These actions can come in two fairly obvious forms:   

Make time. Like all great relationships, the only way to build them is by dedicating time. A mentor of mine told me, “Kids spell love T-I-M-E.” The same is true in showing your team you care about them. While the amount of time can help, it’s not always about the length of time you spend but choosing to be being present during the time together. It could be as simple as a text message between meetings or putting your phone away during lunch together.  

Know Them On a Personal Level. As the participant in my workshop, you might be uncomfortable with this one. The time to get comfortable with it is now. It isn’t complicated, and it also doesn’t mean you have to be friends. Simply ask questions about a person’s journey, experiences, challenges, and career aspirations. When they talk, LISTEN. Recalling the details of your conversations with them proves you listened and care about them. 

Pro Tip: If you have a larger team, create a spreadsheet to record the names of their significant other, hobbies, interests, passions, favorite things, and dreams of the individuals on your team. Keep it updated and handy, so you can be in tune with things going on in their life inside and outside of work. 

The Less Obvious Way to Show You Care

One of my first professional jobs was working for my dad. While those years were rocky, he did something with me constantly that showed how much he cared. He challenged me. 

While his methods for challenging me could be argued, I had little doubt he cared about me because he knew I was capable of more. By challenging me to raise my game, he showed me he cared (even if I didn’t realize that’s what it was at the time.)

Challenging people is so important because it’s human nature to only stretch ourselves to the point where we feel discomfort. Often it takes someone challenging us to go further or reach higher for it to become a reality. 

Here is the key, having solid relationships and a strong bond of mutual trust is critical for you to challenge them in order to get a positive response. Below are a few of my favorite times or places to challenge someone on your team to show you care:

  • Their preparation for a big event or meeting
  • Their effort in developing their skills
  • Their focus during a critical time
  • Their ability to think more creatively and innovatively

If you care about your people, then don’t be afraid to challenge them lovingly. 

What are the best ways you have been challenged, or how to do you challenge your people to show them you care?  

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What’s Your Leadership Style? Join over 40k leaders and discover how well you are leveraging love and discipline as a leader and find out your current leadership style for free.

About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company that exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. He is currently booking events and speaking engagements for 2020. John was named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training Industry.com. John is also the host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

Simple Steps to Become a Better Leader

I was staring at my computer screen at 6PM on a Friday finally relieved that my team had gone home. It had been 4 weeks since I inherited this group, and either I was the worst leader in the free world or they were unable to be managed. It was just about this time, that I ran across a quote from Simon Sinek,

“Great leaders don’t blame the tools they are given. They sharpen them.”

I made a commitment right then and there to not replace these talented individuals, but develop my own leadership skills. I decided to do a little research on how I could improve.

My brain initially went right to one of my favorite authors of all time, Malcolm Gladwell. In his widely popular book, Outliers, Gladwell states that it takes 10,000 hours in a field to develop mastery. With the stakes high and my company’s future at risk, I didn’t have the equivalent of 5 years to gain some level of mastery.

In my research, I came across a TEDx video – ‘The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything…Fast!”  featuring Josh Kaufman.

Kaufman devised a four step methodology for anyone to learn any new skill as quickly as possible. Kaufman states that in just 20 (focused) hours anyone can go from knowing very little to being proficient.

That’s the key! I didn’t need to be a master leader, but what I needed was to be better and be better quickly!

Here are Josh Kaufman’s four steps to learn anything:

  1. Deconstruct the Skill
  2. Learn Enough to Self-Correct
  3. Remove Barriers to Practice
  4. Practice for 20 Hours

I live in the same fast-paced world where time is our most valuable commodity as you do, so I bought into Josh’s theory. (After all, he did teach himself to play the Ukulele in 20 hours). Here is what I did:

Step 1. Deconstruct the Skill.

Leadership, like many skills, has core competencies needed to be effective. I broke down what was going to get me to proficiency the fastest based on experts like Marshall Goldsmith, Franklin Covey, and Dale Carnegie.

  1. Setting Expectations
  2. Gaining Commitment
  3. Paying Attention
  4. Giving Feedback (the right way)
  5. Rewarding Success

Instead of agonizing over the competencies that mattered the most, I made swift and confident decisions about what made the most sense to my organization at the time.

Step 2. Learn Enough to Self-Correct.

This was about learning everything I needed to be able to perform effectively. I dove into reading, took online courses, and had conversations with leaders who I respected. I used my knowledge of the golf swing as my barometer for learning enough to self-correct. This allowed me to not have to go too far down the rabbit hole in one area or fall victim to paralysis by analysis.

Step 3. Remove Barriers to Practice.

I committed to giving up TV and task-oriented work activity on certain nights to be able to consume leadership content. This was an important step to ensure it didn’t derail my workdays but provided dedicated time to knowledge consumption.  This was easily the hardest step in the process because humans are creatures of habit. In order to make a change I had to change some of my habits.

Step 4. Practice for 20 Hours.

The best part about developing leadership skills is that you have an infinite amount of opportunities to practice. It’s actually true of most skills that include communicating with human beings – like customer service or sales.  I got my 20 hours in without a problem and I get to continue to practice everyday of my life whether I am at work or at home.

Fast forward to today. While I don’t consider myself Jeff Bezos, Michael Dell or Jeff Weiner, there is no doubt I have improved my leadership skills using this simple four-step process. Try these 4 simple steps if you want to become a better leader, golfer, pianist, sales person, or any other skill you want to learn.

That being said, I am going to share a little secret with you, KNOWLEDGE DOESN’T CREATE CHANGE. You have to have tenacity and the desire to develop your skills. So, it doesn’t matter if you are leading a team, leading yourself or leading your family you have to make the commitment to always be improving.

Getting Leadership Ready. LearnLoft’s out of the box training approach to helping organizations develop their young professionals to be better and more proactive leaders. Find out more here.