Who gets to be a leader? From time to time, I hear an someone admonish a group of individuals by saying “you are all leaders.” Other times, I see organizational messaging indicating “leadership” is reserved for a small group of individuals who occupy certain positions. Which is it? Are we all leaders, or only some of us?
And how do we get more leaders in our organizations?
In order to figure that out, we’ve got to start by defining what leadership is begin with.
I’ll admit I’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years when it comes to identifying leadership ability in others. Some I’ve thought would be great weren’t – and others I didn’t give much consideration turned out to be amazing. It’d be a lot easier if there was a scientific method to show who could get the job done. Until then, we’ll have to do the best we can.
One of the first mistakes we often make is assuming that the person in charge is always the leader. Then, when it turns out they aren’t, we give up. But what if leadership doesn’t have anything to do with having a title? In that case, it would be possible to have an organization filled with leaders at every level.
Leadership comes with all sorts of headaches and complications. At some point, I’m sure every leader sits back and asks the question, “how did I acquire all this stress?” Sometimes the magnitude of responsibilities is so overwhelming that would-be leaders count the cost and pass up the opportunity altogether.
There’s no question that leadership isn’t easy. But when done right, it’s always worth it. When the stress becomes overwhelming, it can be helpful to take a step back and consider the reasons we took the leap in the first place. Here are some of the common ones.
“Coaching” has been trending corporate buzzword in organizational leadership for well over a decade. We’re all familiar with athletics coaches. But when someone asks us to coach someone to learn a new skill or solve problem, it’s usually in a professional work context. What do coaches actually do – or do differently?
The interesting thing about coaching is how dynamic of a leadership role it is. Supervisors can coach. Mentors can coach. Peers can coach. Executive coaches can coach (obviously). Just about anyone can coach at one time or another.
Whether you have the opportunity to be coached or to be a coach, let’s take a look at six things coaching leaders do that set them apart.
This post is excerpted from Nathan’s book Ignite Your Leadership Expertise.
What if I told you you don’t need to have a solution for every single problem that comes your way in order to be a competent and mature leader? That’s exactly what I’m about to propose. Hopefully it’s as refreshing to you as it is to me. And the best part about it is that it can dramatically improve your leadership influence as well. What’s the alternative to responding with advice? Asking great questions.
As an individual, it doesn’t take long to realize Alexander Pope’s timeless line “to err is human.” As a leader, it can be downright frustrating dealing with the errors of those we lead. But it’s how we respond to those mistakes that sets great leaders apart.
If someone on your team has fouled things up, why don’t you try some of these responses?
I had the chance to travel to Greece and Bulgaria recently and give a series of leadership presentations to several university groups with a small team of business professionals. The sights, food and people were reward enough, but getting to share our leadership presentations with the future leaders of two countries added a special sense of purpose to the trip. Even better, our message had been carefully constructed to include leadership principles that have proved timeless across all disciplines. Let me tell you more about it.
Mark Miller developed the SERVE model and curriculum and collaborated with Ken Blanchard to publish it in their book The Secret. Each member of our small team presented a portion of the model. I’ll summarize it for you here below.
I’m afraid I’ve come to recognize a serious leadership deficit today in America. It’s probably nothing new. It’s what I call “the fear of the finger.” Not the middle finger, mind you. I’m talking about the index finger. Precious few individuals are willing to risk being on the other end of a finger that could end up being pointed at them. Especially when it turns into many fingers in high profile situations.
In other words, there is a great reluctance to take a stand in ambiguous or unpopular situations and declare, “If this doesn’t work, I’ll be the one who goes down with the ship.”
The great tragedy is that the opportunity for true leadership, the kind that welcomes responsibility and takes courageous and necessary risks in spite of the unknown – that kind of leadership, has never been in higher demand. Worse still, the kind of leadership that takes a stand is exactly the prerequisite to rallying others to unite and follow.
I recently got the chance speak to several college and high school student groups about leadership. It reminded me of my college experience when the subject of leadership really clicked with me for the first time. As always, our future rests on the ability of the next generation to lead well.
So I want share with you a few simple ideas that all young people (as well as the rest of us) need to hear about leadership. I encourage you to share them with the young people you know – either with this post or more importantly, with your own words. Here they are.
“How do you get someone to push you?”
I was taking a wrestling class as a kid and that was the question the coach posed as he demonstrated a new move.
“You push him first. Then he’ll want to push back and you can use his momentum to your advantage.”
That may have been the first practical lesson I was given in the art of influence. People respond in kind. The actions we get are often reactions to our own actions. The question is: how do we begin?
Truth: Leadership is about influence, not position.
Leadership is about one thing and one thing only: influence. Leaders use the influence they have to create positive change. The more positive change, the more influence.
Go into any corporate boardroom, military garrison or government building and you’re bound to find someone who has a title and a position, but lacks the influence he or she needs to get the job done. Even though they’re in charge, their followers resist them at every turn. The ones who stick around, that is. People follow them when they have to… but that’s it.
On the other hand, go to the front lines of any war zone, the kitchen of any restaurant or the teachers’ lounge at any school, and you’re bound to find someone who truly leads, regardless of where he or she falls on the totem pole. All you have to do is ask, “who is the real leader around here? Who has the influence to get the job done?” You’re sure to get an answer.
Several years ago I needed to perform a complicated banking transaction on a certain day but wasn’t going to be able to arrive during lobby hours. Having worked as a bank teller back in the day, I knew it would probably prove an impossible request. But to my surprise the bank informed me it would be no problem and they would have an envelope waiting for me in the drive-through.
Another time I was responsible for opening up a restaurant in the morning. When I turned on the lights, I couldn’t believe how shiny everything looked. The place was cleaner than I had ever seen it before. I had to ask around to see who had gone above and beyond.
Yet another time, I needed some repairs done to my car but was on a tight schedule. The mechanic drove me home after I dropped off my car, then called to update me, took my payment over the phone and left my car where I could pick it up at my leisure when my schedule allowed.
Most people are used to getting caught – but it’s usually for doing something wrong. In fact, we’ve become so used to low standards and poor customer experiences that we often expect it. But in each of these cases I shared, the culprit hadn’t done anything wrong, they had done something above and beyond.
What do you do when that happens?
Let me answer that question for you. You catch people doing something right. Here’s why it’s so important.