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Tapping Your Inner Leadership

Ready to sharpen your leadership skills? There are seemingly endless resources available to help hone those skills, with the giant e-commerce site Amazon alone offering over 60,000 books related to leadership. With topics ranging from emotional intelligence to workplace culture to daily routines, better leadership capabilities seem to be only a few technical adjustments away.

While books and courses are essential for leadership development, if you ask Dr. Joshua Weiss, Bay Path’s program director for the MS in Leadership and Negotiation and a Senior Fellow at the Harvard Negotiation Project, there’s another place to begin: by looking in the mirror. “Leadership is within us,” Weiss shared. “If you really want to be effective, you have to turn the mirror on yourself first.”

A firm believer that leaders can be made instead of born, Weiss stresses the importance of strengthening your emotional intelligence and understanding your inner workings before you tackle learning how to lead others. “You have to know yourself, how you think about things, how you approach things, your biases, what helps you, what stands in your way—all of these things impact your thinking,” he shared. “Half of your challenges are out there, with other people and the dynamics at play. But half are within you. You’ll become a better leader if you focus on the things outside, but you won’t become a great leader until you focus on the things inside.

"In today's world, more than ever before, we need people to act like leaders."
Dr. Joshua Weiss program director for Bay Path’s Leadership and Negotiation graduate program

"For women in particular, some of that work involves breaking out of the traditional cultural and societal roles that are baked into their everyday lives and learning that they are worthy of their goals and ambitions. “Asserting for themselves is the biggest problem for many of my students,” shared Weiss. “They’ve been put into positions where they’ve tried to be assertive and it wasn’t met with the response they were hoping for.”

Weiss offers a two-step approach to overcome this challenge. First, it’s important to understand the difference between being assertive and being aggressive. “Assertiveness is standing on your own two feet,” said Weiss. “Aggressiveness is standing on someone else’s toes to get to where you want to go. Effective leaders don’t step on other’s toes. You may get a boost up by doing that, but you’re making an enemy.”

Once comfortable diving into your assertiveness, it’s important to let others know that they can expect a change in you. “It can be difficult for coworkers to accept a quick, sudden, ‘lean in’ type of change,” Weiss said, referring to the Sheryl Sandberg book that sparked these types of discussions around dinner tables and conference tables everywhere in 2013. “You have to communicate that you are no longer willing to have your needs go unmet and how you will be approaching things will change.”

The need to communicate effectively doesn’t stop there. Vision is key to leadership, but equally as important is knowing how to communicate that vision so people buy into it. “Making people a part of the process is crucial, and it’s important to respect the connection between leader and led,” Weiss said. “That connection also requires flexibility and adaptability, as people can be unpredictable. It’s important to be firm on your end goal,” Weiss shared. “But how you get there should be flexible. Have contingency plans. Map out three or four avenues that can get you to the same end goal.”

Part of that planning process involves crystal-clear communication. “When it comes to working with others, make sure you’re talking about the same problem. People make assumptions all the time, and assumptions and perceptions are the silent killers of effective leadership. Words and ideas have connotations and you have to be really clear what you mean, especially if you are using concepts or words with multiple meanings,” shared Weiss.

And if your plan still fails? That’s where your resilience and persistence kicks in. “If your narrative is that you’re going to fail, then you’ll fail. If you want to stick with that narrative, you’ll make it true,” Weiss stated. “The best leaders are resilient and persistent. They are unwilling to accept that there isn’t a solution to a problem, instead accepting that they haven’t found the solution…yet.”

Finding that solution may include compromise, but it’s much more likely about creativity. “Leadership is all about problem solving. It’s realizing what the problem is and finding a solution that might satisfy yourself and those you are dealing with,” Weiss said. It may also involve digging a little deeper, embracing both emotional reactions to the issue at hand and being confident enough to accept when you don’t have the answer. “Leaders can’t know everything, and it’s okay to show your vulnerability,” Weiss shared. “You can’t keep emotions out of leadership. When you start to suppress your emotions, that’s where problems come in. This emotional intelligence piece is critical for great leadership.”

That shift in mindset and that ability to be creative and adaptive are at the heart of what makes a great leader. “When we look for leadership, we often look at the political realm,” Weiss stated. “But leadership is at every level. At home, at school, and in the world around us. And leadership is not really a role, it’s more about actions. Just because you’re not in the C-suite doesn’t mean you don’t have the ability to lead and it’s not critical that you learn to do this. You have to see yourself as a leader. We all do and we all are. In today’s world, more than ever before, we need people to act like leaders.”

Leadership is within us. If you really want to be effective, you have to turn the mirror on yourself.”