A quick Amazon search for “Leadership” will return over 77,000 results, so chances are that a definitive approach for leading others doesn’t exist. In fact, the specific tenets of a leadership philosophy are probably secondary to actually having one in the first place. So even though I’m about to lay out a set of components that frame my beliefs on becoming a better leader, know that I encourage folks to define their own path. For me, that self-discovery process was supported by becoming familiar with multiple viewpoints on the subject. Perhaps this will help in a similar way.
*Disclaimer: This is not meant to represent an inclusive framework for leadership (not sure that exists). Rather, this outline has been a way for me to narrow down numerous principles and traits of leadership into a manageable approach. I simply can’t keep track of 20+ laws of leadership AND put them into action on a daily basis, regardless of how irrefutable they are.
I. KNOW THYSELF
It’s been said that “You can’t lead anyone else further than you have gone yourself”. There aren’t many people interested in following someone who can’t even lead themselves. Also consider that leading by example contributes to your credibility while providing a model for others to follow. For these reasons, self-reflection is the first place to start when developing as a leader. My intention is to first lead myself, then lead my family, and finally be a leader for friends and peers. I’ve found that these 5 elements provide the clarity to best know myself, and as such, they also serve as a roadmap for me to more effectively lead my own life. You can find examples at https://coachemup.wordpress.com/purpose-and-beliefs/.
a. Purpose: A life purpose is a personal mission statement which answers the question – “What were you put on this earth to do?” Try to keep it short and sweet so that it can be easily articulated. Ultimately, it’s something to compare your daily activities to. Are your actions congruent with your mission in life? Knowing your life’s purpose will help you stay focused on activities that matter the most to you.
b. Strengths: The majority of people focus on their shortcomings in order to improve their productivity and fulfillment. But maximum potential for success is driven by our innate talents and abilities. Instead of continuing to fight against your weaknesses, your energy is better spent targeting and developing your personal strengths. When we can live our purpose while leveraging our strengths, we’ll accomplish more with less effort.
c. Core Values: These are the attitudes and beliefs that form an internal compass upon which you navigate through life. A clearly defined set of core values helps you to align your decisions with what you stand for. Without them, it becomes difficult to consistently achieve a sense of wholeness from your actions and behaviors. Your personal core values (and who you are as a leader) are often a reflection of the leaders that made an impact in your life (parents, bosses, coaches, teachers, friends, etc.).
d. Why’s: Most people/companies communicate a combination of three things to others. What they do, How they do it, and Why they do it – and usually in that order. This sequence is certainly a logical and systematic way to deliver information. However, if we study the great leaders of our time, we see the exact opposite. First and foremost, they have inspired action by speaking directly to our emotions – not our sense of reason. Simply put, people don’t buy into what you do; they buy into why you do it. The last time you made a significant and meaningful change in your life, it was probably a deep visceral response to an ideal or belief that moved you enough for you to make a lasting commitment. It’s in that primitive place in us that the “Why’s” exist. From a leadership perspective, I need to know my own “Why’s” before I can communicate or model them to others.
e. Vision: A life vision is a snapshot of the future in which all the things important to you are manifested. Together with your core values, it will provide direction for your daily choices and behaviors. Some people will literally draw a picture of a scene from the future and make decisions that bring them closer to that vision (70th birthday party, retirement party, first book signing, etc.). Another way to develop your personal vision is to draft a copy of your own eulogy. It’s a bit morbid, but deciding what you’d like folks to say about you after you pass can be an effective way to frame your life path. Whatever your vision is, use it to answer the question – Is what I am doing now bringing me closer to my life vision?
II. BUILD RELATIONSHIPS
Expecting people to follow you based on your position or title is awfully short-sighted. Instead, what great leaders know is that followership is something earned by those who take a genuine interest in others. They ask about things like family, hobbies, unique skills, likes, dislikes, aspirations, and other aspects about people’s lives outside of work. Then they actually listen to the responses. Having these types of down-to-earth interactions is essential to building trust and will foster a culture of positive energy and support. It’s human nature to seek out those who show concern in getting to know us. And when we find it at home, or work, or wherever, we’re happy to deliver the best in us – without being asked or reminded. Theodore Roosevelt may have said it best – “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
III. FOCUS ON STRENGTHS
People achieve a high level of fulfillment and happiness when passion and skill intersect. Without a high level of natural acumen, passion will only get us so far. Conversely, it’s completely possible that we can be good at something, yet not possess an inherent desire to do that thing for the rest of our lives. Leaders can assist folks in finding this intersection by looking for, and magnifying, their skills/strengths. In fact, great leaders are able to identify strengths within people that they themselves were unaware of. Once identified, tell them and tell them often (it will probably be the first time someone has taken the time to tell them what they do better than anyone else). Follow this up with a plan to further develop and hone these strengths while putting them in positions to best leverage them. Imagine the possibilities of a passionate team composed of individuals who appreciate their own strengths and the complementary strengths of each other.
IV. THINK EMPATHETICALLY
The hard-lined, opinionated, black and white leadership styles are becoming less and less effective. Modern high achievers are seeking out leaders that inspire action, not dictate it. This isn’t to say that a firm approach doesn’t work, in fact, articulating distinct values and a clear vision is important. The key is being able to align your vision with the visions of others. That connection is most easily made when leaders use their emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is characterized by making concerted efforts to understand what makes other people tick, finding out what’s important to them, how they feel about what’s asked of them, and most of all – what inspires them. When a leader is attuned to others in this way, they begin to see the world as their followers do. Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes is a mark of serving as a vehement advocate for others – which builds trust. Thinking empathically doesn’t mean you’ll always agree with their viewpoints, just that you honor their perspective and humbly adjust the way you interact with them.
V. BE AUTHENTIC
Fundamentally, leadership is not just something we do – it’s a candid expression of who we are. So much so that when people try to fit into a persona of leadership, they come across phony and insecure. On the other hand, authentic leaders who are true to their values and walk the talk, are masters at gaining the trust and confidence of others. They are at ease with not having all the answers and instead foster a culture of synergy that captures the power and wisdom of many. The way that they allow their ego to die and embrace a level of vulnerability also makes those around them feel comfortable in doing the same. In the end, cultures built on a foundation of authenticity simply won’t be subject to the ceilings that stymie artificial and flimsy environments.
Here are some of the resources that helped form my thoughts on leadership;
1. Book: The Element – Robinson
2. Book: How to Win Friends & Influence People – Carnegie
3. Book: The Four Agreements – Ruiz
4. Book: Strengths Finder 2.0 – Rath
5. Book: The High Achiever’s Guide to Happiness – Caesar, Caesar
6. Book: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership – Maxwell
7. Book: 25 Ways to Win with People – Maxwell
8. Book: Linchpin – Godin
9. Article: “What Makes a Leader?” – Goleman, Harvard Business Review, Nov. – Dec. 98
10. Article: “Managing Authenticity” – Goffee & Jones, Harvard Business Review, Dec. 05
11. Article: “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time” – Schwartz & McCarthy, Harvard Business Review, Oct. 07
12. Blog: Harvard Business Review Blog Network
13. Web Video: “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” – Simon Sinek http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html
14. Web Video: “A Life of Purpose” – Rick Warren http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/rick_warren_on_a_life_of_purpose.html
15. Web Video: “True Success” – John Wooden http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/john_wooden_on_the_difference_between_winning_and_success.html
– Coach Hall