because writing is clarifying

because writing is clarifying

Subbu Allamaraju’s Journal

Leadership for Results and Peace of Mind

I deeply care about getting results. I like to see things improved. I also want to enjoy my work and like the people I work with to enjoy what they do. Plus, I like to have peace of mind every day. How do you get all three right most of the time, if not always?

After years of testing various ideas and behaviors, I developed a leadership framework that has proven effective in achieving results, enjoying work, and maintaining peace of mind. While there’s no one-size-fits-all leadership recipe, I’m eager to share a few key behaviors that have helped me and could benefit you.

The following factors motivated me to formulate these leadership behaviors.

  • Leadership does not just begin at the top and flow down. Leadership is a process of influence. Your effectiveness depends on your ability to influence people across multiple degrees of separation. On the one hand, you are expected to direct and motivate your teams to get results, which can be challenging given expectations, budget, timelines, and their motivations and attitudes. On the other hand, you also need to influence your peers, your managers, their peers, and stakeholders inside and outside your organization to get the necessary resources, funding, support, and, most importantly, alignment.

  • Your work relationships and the influencing process come with emotional baggage. Ambiguity, constraints, setbacks, wins and losses, consequences of failures, power, politics, and other “soft stuff” challenge your psychological state. Very few people gracefully handle such “soft stuff.” To cope, many become passive, selfish, edgy, pushy, dominating, controlling, moody, arrogant, narcissistic, or dishonest. Most of these behaviors have consequences for others, which brings us to the next point.

  • Your character and balanced behavior matter to others. Here, I’m using the word character and not authenticity, as authenticity can mean different things for different individuals. Character has a simpler meaning — it refers to your moral and ethical qualities. As a leader, you can be a force for good for your company, your team, and other stakeholders. Or you can hurt others by playing against, blocking, taking credit, favoritism, etc. Leadership roles give you ample opportunities to be contemptible. The choice is yours.

Given such diverse operating forces, how should one lead to (a) get results, (b) enjoy what they do, and (c) have peace of mind?

The Framework

You can’t have peace of mind, foster an enjoyable working environment, and yet produce results unless you build a harmonious relationship between your role and pursuit, your attitude toward others, and the interests of others. My framework consists of five leader behaviors: (a) practice equanimity,(b) nurture power, (c) drive, (d) be useful, and (e) develop others. Of these five, equanimity is the foundation, on which you layer power to drive, being useful, and developing others. That’s my recipe.

Five leadership behaviors

Some of these behaviors may sound paradoxical or defeatist to those who have worked for or learned from aggressive leaders, but as I clarify below, you can have the cake and eat it, too.

Behavior 1: Practice Equanimity

Equanimity, often overlooked in leadership, is a state of even-tempered mind. It allows you to handle victories, failures, praises, and abuses gracefully. This calm state of mind gives you the power of presence, the ability to listen, observe more, and react less. It enhances your self-awareness and emotional intelligence. With equanimity, you can lead complex issues with a steady hand and not panic. Most importantly, equanimity ensures you have peace of mind every day.

Equanimity increases distress tolerance and improves your ability to perceive reality, increasing your ability to make better decisions and handle healthy conflicts. When you are equanimous, you are less likely to be swayed by strong emotions or biases, which can distort your perception of reality. This balanced state of mind allows for more objective observation and understanding of situations, leading to a more accurate sense of reality and enabling you to make better decisions and handle conflicts.

Behavior 2: Nurture Power

Leadership is the process of influencing others to get things done. How do you influence others? You influence others through various types of power, such as your knowledge, how others perceive you, who you know, your credibility, the budget, and headcount you manage, who you report and manage, etc.

Power gives you leverage. The more types and quantities of power you possess, the more leverage you have to influence others to get things done. So, don’t be agnostic of power and politics at work. Acknowledge that power and politics are part of the natural fabric of any organization. Understand the sources of power you have and the sources of power others have, and then continue to nurture your sources of power. It could include your leadership competencies, relationships, what you have done for them, budget, headcount, strategic projects, strategic capabilities, etc.

But don’t get anxious about accumulating power. Be patient. Begin by analyzing your sources of power and weaknesses. Develop organizational awareness. Be strategic about nurturing power. Some sources of power, like the title, headcount, and budget, can disappear or change as companies change, whereas your relationships, competencies, and what you have done for others stay with you. Also note that power has a nasty way of corrupting your character. Be aware. You must develop a healthy relationship with power and politics.

Behavior 3: Drive

Drive gets results. When you are driven, you will find things to improve. No drive, no results. Leadership does not matter much without results. Look around you — how many leaders are actively driving, and how many are just going through the managerial mechanics to stay the course?

Driving does not just mean doing what is expected and keeping things steady. You must have the foresight to see challenging problems and the backbone to stand up to address those. Driving involves challenging the status quo, stepping up, setting up unarguable goals, inspiring others, driving clarity, paving the path, creating necessary alignments, and organizing and operating to get results. To drive must be your job. Mind that drive does not come naturally to everyone. You have to practice again and again until it becomes your nature.

Behavior 4: Be Useful

Being useful is a form of humility. Show humility and be useful to others. Seek to understand how your goals might help others and the broader organization. Ask your peers what you can do to help achieve their goals.

It might seem paradoxical and counter-intuitive to be useful to others instead of always focusing on what you want. Here is a secret — you increase your influence when you shift your focus from your goals to the goals of the broader organization. When you do so, your team will also collaborate more amongst themselves, and they, too, focus on shared goals instead of their narrow personal goals. Try it out — you will realize that being useful to others detoxifies your work life and contributes to your influence.

But being useful takes courage. What if others’ goals are so much more important than yours, and you might need to give up on them to support theirs? That’s possible. So be it. If that is the reality, face it.

Behavior 5: Develop Others

Leadership is a team sport, and your role as their leader is that of a coach. You have two choices: treat your team as tools for you to use to get what you want, or treat them as individuals with distinct motivations and attitudes and invest in their careers by providing opportunities, stretch assignments, and increased scope. Exercise the former to get your way, but make it toxic for your team. Or, exercise the latter to reduce toxicity at work while increasing your leverage. Think of this analogy — when you invest in others, they will come to the war and fight for you, and you are less likely to die alone. It’s a win-win.

But you may only be able to develop some. So, use your intuition to pick your bets. Mentor and coach them. Open up stretch opportunities to increase their scope and performance. As they develop, so does your ability to produce results and influence.

Now What?

I didn’t come up with this framework overnight. It took years of asking why I wanted to lead. I experimented with different versions of my ideas to find logic and cohesiveness between them. I also spent nearly two years studying topics related to leadership psychology, such as goal setting, strategy, motivation, attitudes and behaviors, power and influence, ethics, driving organizational change, and leadership theories like servant leadership, transformational leadership, and authentic leadership. I complemented this activity with some philosophy studies.

Of the five behaviors I listed, equanimity didn’t initially make it to my list. But as I wrote and rewrote my framework and experimented with different ideas, equanimity bubbled up to the top. I consider it the most essential characteristic for living and leading well. I strongly recommend you take up some mindfulness practices to learn more about equanimity and how to get into an equanimous state. It takes rigorous practice. If you want inspiration about this quality, watch Ted Lasso. In this clip, what does Ted imply when he asks Sam to be a goldfish?

The next one to assess is your sources of power and their reach. Nurture power. Don’t treat power as evil. I’ve written about power in the past with some references. I recommend reading Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t and Managing With Power by Jefferey Pfeffer and The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.

The foundation of equanimity and a moderate (not excessive) penchant for power equip you to drive. Being useful to others and developing others helps you lead larger, and these behaviors also contribute back to your equanimity and power.

Let me know if these ideas make sense. If you are interested in exploring your leadership and want to talk to someone, don’t hesitate to contact me. You can drop me a message on LinkedIn or email me at “subbu at this domain” for a coaching conversation.

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