European Business: In your book you mention Leader A (the balanced leader) and Leader B (the stressed leader). Donald Trump´s policy is controversial. What do you think, what type of leader is he?
Amy Jen Su: I don’t think that any one of us can be characterized as just one type of leader or another. The intention of describing Leader A and Leader B – is to express that we all experience both modes. We all have A and B within.
The key for those in positions like President Trump and other public figures is to remember that one of the biggest responsibilities of leadership is the effect we have on others. You are the one out front, the example everyone sees and emulates. You are the one who sets the vision and goals and also the one who sets the tone, the culture, and the general ethos of the environment. Like a pebble dropped into a lake, your leadership ripples out in ever-widening circles to touch team members, divisions, organizations, shareholders, and, depending on how high your profile, entire industries or even nations.
The question I hope that all leaders, including President Trump, ask themselves is: what do you want that ripple effect to look like and feel like for others? Depending on which mode you’re in, Leader A or Leader B, you’ll have a very different impact.
European Business: Is there a Leader C who has good qualities of Leader A and Leader B?
Amy Jen Su: I had not thought of a distinct Leader C but your idea here of an integrated leader is a good one. My intention for Leader A was always to describe the part of you which inherently accepts that A and B are part of today’s leadership situation.
A big part of developing your Leader A “best self” is actually coming to peace within yourself which means to accept and integrate even those parts that we don’t like. Self-acceptance here does not mean becoming complacent instead it means to release yourself from the pressure to uphold some idealized image of a mythical “super-human” leader.
"The key for those in positions like President Trump and other public figures is to remember that one of the biggest responsibilities of leadership is the effect we have on others." Amy Jen Su
European Business: What are the greatest challenges leaders have to deal with today?
Amy Jen Su: There are many great challenges that leaders need to deal with in today’s environment especially as you consider the speed of change and technology disruption, work which now spans across the globe and different cultures, and how complicated organizations have become.
In the context of challenges leaders face on an individual level in terms of their own effectiveness and performance, there are many challenges I see each day out in the trenches working with leaders. The three top ones I hear include: time, whereby there are never going to be enough hours in the day for what we hope to accomplish. Second, other people can get in the way whereby there are always going to be other people we have to deal with to get the job done. Finally, ourselves whereby there are internal struggles and friction created by the internal pressures we put on ourselves. Those are challenges I see many professionals struggle with in today’s busy world.
European Business: In an interview we had with author Marcus Buckingham, he said that a good leader has weekly check-ins with his employees. If you don’t you shouldn’t be a leader. Do you agree with that?
Amy Jen Su: I am personally a big fan of Marcus Buckingham’s work. The data he points to regarding the positive benefits of weekly check-ins is compelling as is the two key questions he suggests that leaders use during these check-ins: What are the priorities this week? and How can I help?
Part of becoming a great Leader A is recognizing that a big part of your job now is to cultivate others growth. This requires a fundamental mindset shift from It’s all about raising my game TO I raise my game by raising the game of others. This requires that you are able to let go of some control, be vulnerable, ask for help, not have all the answers, and not jump in each time anxiety or control gets the better of you. It doesn’t mean you are stepping back—it means you’re stepping up as a leader, which requires a greater focus on your team and their long-term success.
"There are never going to be enough hours in the day for what we hope to accomplish." Amy Jen Su
European Business: In your book you state that “Passion is what brings you inspiration, enjoyment and excitement in your work”. How is it possible to find it jobwise?
Amy Jen Su: It’s easy to equate our jobs with the daily grind and stress. However, it is possible to find the areas which bring you passion and inspiration. The key is to look for the clues during natural points in your work-flow and pause and check in with yourself.
For example, in advance of new experiences, think about: What are you excited about for this upcoming project or initiative? What are ways you hope to develop, learn, or grow with this experience? Or, you could ask yourself questions after completing important projects such as: What’s something you felt great about or were especially proud of on that team or project? What was especially rewarding, meaningful, or inspiring coming out of that project, initiative, or event?
The answers to these questions will give you clues to what brings you enjoyment and satisfaction in your work today. Recognize that what might have ignited your interest and passion five years ago could very well be different today. When you hit those points of boredom or disengagement, pay attention. It might very well signal it’s time for a discussion with your boss about updating your role or it could even signal it’s time for a job change altogether.
"Spend two weeks observing yourself in action and then intentionally reflect on those times when you were particularly effective and at your best." Amy Jen Su
European Business: What are the 3 steps to follow and habits you need to become a great Leader A?
Amy Jen Su: The first step to follow is to flex your muscle of self-awareness and know which leader you are – Leader A or Leader B – in the moment. Spend two weeks observing yourself in action and then intentionally reflect on those times when you were particularly effective and at your best – what mindset, choices, and behaviors did you demonstrate? You can also engage in 360 reviews or ask your colleagues for feedback to better understand what others experience when you are in Leader A versus Leader B mode.
The second step is to make self-care a priority. We all know that it is easier to show up like Leader A after a good night’s sleep, eating well, or getting some exercise. When you know you need to be fully sharp and present, limit caffeine, sugar, or alcohol. Get that one great night of sleep before a big presentation or get in a run when your stress is running high. Part of becoming a great Leader A is knowing which situations demand you to be present and effective, and then making the best choices to meet those moments.
Finally, many leaders underestimate the importance of the third step – to bring more self-compassion to themselves. Highly ambitious, successful people tend to be more self-critical, place greater demands on themselves, and feel pressure to succeed. Research shows that self-criticism can lead to depression, anxiety, a preoccupation with failure, and decreased motivation versus self-compassion which can lead to greater achievement and improvement. Rather than asking yourself: did I do this right or wrong? Ask yourself: have I done this as authentically, effectively, and constructively as I can? What would a friend say to me in this situation?
Interview: Vera Gaidies | Photos: Harvard Business Review Press