Women continue to face many barriers when it comes to breaking into the top tiers of leadership. Two of the most prominent reasons why women are kept out of top leadership positions are because organizations are not ready for women in leadership and because people don’t think women are tough enough to lead, according to recent Pew research.
All leaders need to prove themselves, but women face additional challenges in overcoming preconceived notions, often held by the gatekeepers to leadership positions. To become a great leader, there are tough choices everyone needs to make.
Here are 6 difficult things all leaders must do:
1. Deliver Hard Truths
When you have to deliver a potentially painful message, it is natural to want to sugarcoat it. This typically doesn’t serve in leadership though. Whether delivering a message to a poor performer or relating a message to upper management, your credibility and integrity are determined by your ability to be honest. That honesty is always hardest to deliver when it is a hard truth, which is exactly why great leaders distinguish themselves by being honest in those situations.
2. Put the Mission Above All ElseIn the Marines, good leadership means putting the mission first. In business, this principle is applied by good leaders who put their mission – be it the company mission, a project, hitting a financial goal, etc., before themselves. You can be a good leader by being self-sacrificing, but great leaders know that putting the mission first means putting ahead of everything, including at times other team members. Luckily, in most cases the mission goals align with team member goals, but tough leaders will put the mission before others when there isn’t alignment.
3. Make Decisions Without All the Facts
In a perfect world, you will always weigh all of the facts before making a decision. But this isn’t a perfect world. At times you will need to make a decision without having all the facts at hand. Great leaders will trust their instincts and make the tough decisions no one else can.
4. Stand By Decisions But Pivot When Necessary
The will to act and make decisions also requires to the will to stand by your decisions. Let’s say you decided to change the process by which your company’s products get delivered to customers. Usually your company ships products to customers using a paid delivery service. You decided it would be better for branding and would reduce long-term costs to buy your own trucks, hire drivers and have more control over tracking shipments. But without having the fluid shipping process of a vendor specializing in fulfillment, shipments got delayed, customers got angry and you ended up in the hot seat. It would be easy to say “I was wrong,” or “I didn’t think this one through,” but good leaders know why they made the decision in the first place. You can defend your reasoning and why you thought it was the best direction for the company.
But now another decision needs to be made. Do you backtrack and revert back to the old shipping method – and take the loss of investing in the new method – or do you stand your ground and push forward with the belief you can rectify those mistakes and hit your original goal? The answer might be somewhere in the middle. Perhaps you will go back to your vendor for the majority of shipments while slowly scaling up the in-house process. It is important to stand by your decisions but be willing to compromise and make adjustments when necessary. This all goes back to putting the mission first.
5. Accept Accountability…To Everyone Involved
Great leaders accept they are ultimately the ones responsible for the outcomes of what they are leading. In the above scenario, the worst action would have been to deflect blame, for example. Most leaders accept this when it comes to reporting to their superiors, whether you’re a senior-level executive reporting to the CEO or the CEO reporting to the board. But you are also accountable to those you lead. Simply put, if you aren’t willing to stand up be accountable for the mission, you will not get buy-in from the team. They won’t trust you and won’t follow you.
6. Overcome FearFear can often hold people back from becoming great leaders which is why the will to lead is often seen as an act of courage. And leaders have the same fears as everyone: fear of failure (or in some cases success), fear of being a fraud, fear disappointing those who believe in you, etc. Business leaders learn to overcome those fears or even use that fear as a motivational tool. But great leaders, tough leaders, also empower others to overcome their fears. This is done by all of the above steps. You can lead your team out of fear by putting all of the fear on your shoulders and enduring it. By being the one who is accountable, who has to make the tough decisions, who has to answer for those decisions – by being the one who carries the weight of the mission – you give those you lead the courage to do what they need to do to succeed. This is how being a tough leader means being a great leader.