“True leadership lies in guiding others to success–in ensuring that everyone is performing at their best, doing the work they are pledged to do and doing it well.” –Bill Owens
What does it mean to be a leader? A few days ago, someone referred to me as a ‘leader in your community’. I blushed and then, before I could deflect the observation, I took pause to contemplate what that implied. I used to think it meant being responsible for other people’s performance and having a take charge attitude, since that is what is often modeled by those in positions of power. I knew I didn’t want to be that kind of leader. I had held only one supervisory position in my career and, frankly, I hated it. I was working in a nursing home and had been hired to be Director of Social Work and Admissions. I would come to work each day, feeling as if I was dressed in my Mommy’s clothes and leaving with a headache. The job lasted a few months and I moved on to a line staff Social Work position in an inpatient psychiatric hospital.
Over the years, I have worked with empowered and empowering leaders; people who were both competent as far as skill level was concerned and confident in their ability to guide those who worked with them. They set high, but achievable standards for themselves and others around them. What they had in common, as well, is that they genuinely like people. It showed in the ways in which they interacted; with a smile, handshake and eye contact. In their presence, I knew I mattered and what I had to say, was of importance to them.
Words To The Wise From The Wise
Retired CEO of General Electric Jack Welch definitely states, “Before you become a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”
And from writer and consultant Peter Drucker, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
A manager is one who is responsible for the output of the team, while a leader offers team members the opportunity to excell in his or her field of endeavor, thus increasing the success of all involved. Some of the most effective professionals I have known have had a foot in both realms. They were able to step back and witness their colleagues (and indeed viewed them that way, rather than placing themselves in a superior position, even though they carried additional responsibility) shine.
According to business and leadership expert, Brian Tracy, “Leaders never stop growing and developing. They have the capacity to keep themselves from falling into a comfort zone. They are lifelong students.”
Further, he confirms that leadership skills can be learned. It takes a desire and a willingness to step out of said comfort zones and stretch beyond your edge, which might feel frightening, but is ultimately rewarding. What might keep you from owning your leadership abilities?
- Being told that you would not succeed
- Fear of being visible
- Discomfort with speaking in public
- Hesitation to give instruction to others
- Self doubt
- Over-emphasizing mistakes you may have made
- No solid role models for leadership
- Belief that if you are a leader, you need to be running the show all of the time
- Letting the past drag you down (perhaps you came from an impoverished background)
How can you overcome those doubting Thomas voices which tell you that leadership is not your forte’? Consider the people who have taken on leadership roles in your life. Parents, grandparent, older siblings, teachers and mentors could fall into that category. What qualities did they possess?
If you grew up in a home where, “Because I said so…. Because I am the parent…. You’d better, or else…” chances are you would view leadership as authoritarian and rigid. This type of coercive and threatening model is likely to render you hesitant to make your own decisions and step beyond the safety zone.
If your models for leadership were authoratative and educating, they were likely to offer information that could assist you in taking steps forward so that you would feel a greater sense of accomplishment.
If the leaders in your life took on a mentoring or coaching role, they were likely to come up with action steps to guide you to make your own decisions with a “You’ve got this!” attitude to bolster you.
If the ones who led the way, have an ‘affiliative’ style, they may have communicated caring and nurturing in the midst of challenge and change in the team format.
There are several documented leadership theories that are utilized to run businesses, schools and communities. They range from the aforementioned authoritarian style to what is referred to as ‘servent leadership’ which has the one ‘at the top’ working alongside those he or she employs, for the common good.
Qualities that make for a good leader (as culled from that question on social media)
- “Someone who can be trusted and who inspires other to reach out for their full potential.”
- “Someone who can be trusted to be honest, unbiased, fair, and decisive.”
- “One who lives what they speak and leads others to know their own voices.”
- “Someone who attracts followership.”
- “Pure tenacity and confidence, plus appreciation.”
- “When people tell you that you are a leader, it means that they are behind you.”
How can you become a good leader?
- Assess your own strengths and abilities
- Ask yourself, what model you most naturally gravitate to
- Inquire of others how they view you
- Be willing to take constructive direction without succumbing to defensiveness
- Be mindful of the need for improvement without self deprecation for standing where you are at the moment
- Engage in lifelong learning by reading and taking classes
- Surround yourself with others who lead by example
- Practice leading in small ways if this is new to you by taking on mini projects or volunteering
- Have accountability partners to help keep you on track
- Learn from everyone you encounter
- Communicate openly
- Listen with the intent to understand and not just to respond to get your point accross
- Develop organizational skills
- Keep lists and check items off daily
- Let those you lead know that they are important to you and your team
- Be a cheerleader
Lead by example.
Photo by MSVG