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Ghosts of Leadership Past

Article contributed by Penny Izlakar with the WIL Alberta Chapter

We are not typically born with what I like to call “the leadership competency.” In fact – we often find ourselves building it throughout our lives. We all make mistakes, but learning from these mistakes helps catapult you into a great leader.

I have always liked the saying that challenges are opportunities. It helps frame my perspective and allows me to continuously grow and refine my leadership skills. I don’t like to look at anything as a failure but as a learning instead; I know that can be easier said than done. It’s hard to not let past mistakes “haunt” you and instead use them to inform your development. So, I’ve put together four strategies to help squash those pesky ghosts of leadership past.

Strategy #1: Confront your Ghosts! Map out your leadership journey and identify challenges and failures and start reframing them as opportunities and learnings

A great way to define or identify your growth opportunities is to map out your leadership journey to date. The goal is to identify a group of competencies you want to work on, based on things you feel you may not have handled well in the past. I typically ask myself the following questions when confronting my ghosts of leadership past:

  • What was happening at the time?

  • What role was I in?

  • Did I learn anything?

  • Is there anything that I would do differently?

These questions help you look at the past through a learning lens so you can focus on the specific leadership competencies you want to develop.

Strategy #2: Search your Soul! Uncover leadership values that resonate with you today.

If you’re not sure where to start one of my favourite soul searching posts is “Self-awareness – are you listening”.

Otherwise – consider journaling. I like to keep a running journal and document the following:

  • What leadership qualities would people say you have?

  • Describe a leadership role or experience that makes you proud

  • What feedback have you received on your leadership style?

  • What leadership programs/courses have you taken? and did you identify any gaps in your skills that you’d like to develop?

  • What are the characteristics/qualities of others that you wish you had?

  • What are the key characteristics of your ideal leader?

  • What leadership qualities made your past leaders less effective?

  • What are some upcoming scenarios where you could test some new skills?

Once I have firmer answers to these questions, I add into my leadership True North… stay tuned for another post on how I developed and maintain my True North.

Strategy #3: Talk to people! Conduct a feedback loop with peers, leaders and team members – ask them what they value (or don’t value) about your leadership style

Getting open and honest feedback used to scare me – because it’s not always what you want to hear. However, it is one of the best ways to understand how others have perceived some of your actions as a leader. Here are a few ways you can gather feedback:

  • Conduct a survey. You can make this anonymous too if you think it would help people respond in an honest way

  • Schedule post presentation debriefs with your leader or peer to get more immediate feedback on how you did and if they have any suggestions on things you could do better next time.

  • Journal after meetings or presentations – how do you think you showed up? What would you do differently next time? This helps to drive self-awareness that you can share with a mentor or coach for additional advice.

Here are a few more things to note – when I ask for feedback, I focus on demonstrating humility to ensure the psychological safety of the person I am asking for feedback from. This can be tough sometimes, because genuine feedback can sometimes bruise the ego – but it’s really important to me that people are open and honest with me. I have another post in the hopper on how I do that – so stay tuned.

Strategy #4: Build a plan of attack! Plan your leadership development – and exactly how to tackle it.

Your leadership journey will never be complete but building a plan is critical in narrowing down the things you want to focus on immediately vs things you may want to improve over time. Most people create a one-to-five-year plan, and commit to editing it along the way. Once you identify the leadership categories you’d like to work on from the last 3 strategies – develop clear objectives to obtain them. Below are a few ways I have worked on my own leadership skills to help get you started:

  • I found myself wanting to empower creativity and innovation – so I now coach instead of offer solutions

  • I think the business aspect of what we do is just as important as the technical aspect so I focus on driving team members to explore the strategy or the “why” side of their work

  • I want to showcase people I believe in and help them build confidence. So, I make a point of letting people that report to me shine in meetings so they get comfortable using their voice and presenting their ideas

To break it down further for you:

Write a leadership competency you’d like to build (take driving innovation and creativity as an example) and then write down the steps you’ll practice to accomplish it:

  1. Coach my employees – don’t tell them the answers

  2. Read books on fostering innovation & creativity

  3. Take a course on building creative teams

  4. Talk to my Mentor about how they build innovation & foster creativity on their team

Although confronting your ghosts of leadership past may feel daunting and uncomfortable, hopefully this post gives you the power and confidence you need to leverage them in a meaningful way. No one wants to be haunted forever!

Leader. Efficiency Finder. Mentor. Leadership Advocate. Penny Izlakar



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