How Effective Leaders ‘Show Up’

Jeff Boss
Jeff Boss
Aug 6, 2018 · 4 min read

Every leader or aspiring leader wants to have impact. They want to create significance for themselves, their teams, and their organizations, and they want to deliver the value they envision and know they’re capable of.

I can’t tell you how many of my coaching clients ask for a “60-day plan,” as if following that plan — or any plan, for that matter — will somehow help them self-actualize. All they have to do is justfollow…the plan. Right?

Wrong. Now don’t get me wrong. Drafting a 60 or 90-day action plan is definitely a worthwhile exercise just as conjuring up a business plan will help you think through your unique value proposition, the market, and competitors.

However, plans change.

Now the assumption behind drafting a leadership plan is that leadership effectiveness is predictive. Meaning, that if you just follow the plan then you’ll be the leader you always wanted to be.

I call bullshit — not because plans aren’t valuable but because of the promise that having a plan infers.

I can’t think of any mission in the SEAL Teams that actually went according to plan. Not one. However, the process of planning was definitely valuable because it heightened everybody’s situational awareness about the target and the team.

When it comes to having a plan, the reality is that it’s oftentimes better to “travel” than to “arrive” since the process of traveling is actually a constant “arriving.”

If you’re the type that “needs” a plan, that’s fine. However, leaders that make an impact learn from their actions and the actions of others — moments in time that cannot be planned. Having said that, the most memorable leaders who I’ve been lucky enough to have coached, worked with, or learned from typically show up in four ways:

1. Show up with questions.

Impactful leaders use questions as tools to serve two purposes:

  1. to help themselves learn
  2. to help others learn

Leaders use questions to solicit guidance and explore other people’s insights to learn more themselves (after all, the leader isn’t — or shouldn’t be — the one closest to the problem) and they use questions to challenge people to think so they can learn more.

Most important, effective leaders listen. They realize that the questions they ask will reverberate throughout the workforce so they’re careful about how they ask questions and what questions they ask. What this translates to is listening. They fully listen to the other person before crafting a question in their own minds about what to ask next.

2. Show up with open ears.

At my last SEAL command, the commanding officer (CO) liked to make unexpected visits throughout the team rooms. He arrived announced because, well, after all, he was the CO. He always had a pen and paper ready so he could ask questions and listen. He wrote down the questions people asked, who asked them, and then followed up with them personally once he had an answer. The endstate was a CO who was sorely missed once his tenure was over because he personalized his leadership impact. Showoing up with an inquiring mind also speaks of another “show up factor”, which is…

3. Show up with humility.

Leaders shouldn’t have all the answers. If you are the smartest person in the room then, I hate to tell you, you’re in the wrong room.

Humble leaders are confident leaders and confident leaders are inspiring. There are many reasons why humility is such a profound leadership characteristic, but the challenge with exercising humility is twofold. First, humility is typically viewed as a weakness or as a zero-sum game. Meaning, that if Joe is too humble then that must mean he isn’t a strong enough advocate for what he wants which means his agenda will be lost and others’ achieved (zero-sum).

The truth is, I can’t think of any leader during my career as a SEAL or as a leadership coach who was effective without being humble. The best leaders are humble leaders. Humility opens the door to learning. It also allows you to defer to the person with the greatest subject matter expertise and context about the problem so it gets solved the best way possible.

4. Show up ready to work.

I don’t know about you, but if I don’t exercise then I can’t focus on my work because I’m too focused on how I feel. How you feel about yourself determines how you show up for yourself, your team, and the work you produce. Research by Dr. John Ratey revealed the impact of exercise upon the brain. Namely, that exercise “sparks” cognitive development and emotional wellbeing. Exercise has actually been shown to reverse the effects of depression better than prescription drugs.

While the list of how effective leaders “show up” is constantly evolving, growing, and changing, certain behaviors will always remain timeless. What are yours?

Jeff is a leadership team coach, former Navy SEAL, author of Navigating Chaos: How To Find Certainty in Uncertain Situations and host of the weekly podcast Shut Up And Show Up: Forging Elite Teams.

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