Ask people who the leader is and they will probably name people like the boss, teacher, mayor, police chief, maybe the President but they won’t say, “I am!” People talk about the need for better leadership in business, government, education, and everywhere. And when they talk about leadership, they don’t think of themselves as a leader or being in a position to make a difference.
The fact is – we are all leaders! You’re a leader whenever you guide others. You are leading when asked for directions, for your opinion, for a listening ear, for help with a problem, for insight on a project, for advice on relationship issues. When the team looks to you for guidance, when you share information that others don’t have, when you take action, when you create a solution, you are leading. At home you are a leader when your spouse, daughter, son, or neighbor is looking to you to set values and boundaries, teach how to understand the world, handle a bully, and speak to a teacher or friend about something unfair or difficult.
Most of what we’ve learned about leadership has come through observation of parents, teachers, principals, bosses, and others in authority roles. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t grow up with the best role models. Most of my observations were about wielding power, using a loud voice, giving orders, and making threats – leading through fear mongering. I rarely experienced leaders that were so good that I would follow them anywhere, but I was lucky and had a few who inspired, coached, and guided me in ways that made listening and following easy and success-filled.
I vigorously read a large sampling of leadership books written during the past 100 years and discovered two pieces of good news: 1) Read any 10 leadership books written by acclaimed authors from 1900 until now and you will have what you need to know about leadership. Reading more will just be reinforcement. 2) Good people with good information make great decisions. Most people are good, but don’t have good information (clear, transparent, honest) nor simple problem-solving and decision-making skills required. Great leaders provide good information and encourage curiosity and learning.
I also discovered one huge challenge from my reading: Leadership is about soul work! The best leaders worked to understand themselves. They identified their skills and short comings. They chose to demonstrate honesty, integrity, accountability, risk taking, and ownership even when it wasn’t in their best personal interest. The best leaders learned how to dream and then openly communicate a plan that got others excited about the future. They looked for potential in others rather than weaknesses. And finally they opted to take a stance: they put a stake in the ground and said this is where I stand and what I believe and they were willing to take the consequences without complaint.
What about you? Do you want to become a better leader at home, at work, in the community? Are you willing to do a little soul work to unlearn the leadership methods that have been so repeated for you and take the risk of trying new behaviors that feel counter-intuitive? Are you willing to trade power and control for involvement and engagement? If so, read more of my posts on leadership. If you have read this far, you are one of the good people and great leadership is within your grasp!
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
Stewardship by Peter Block
Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott