How do you define leadership? How impactful are you as a leader? While the subject seems simple on the surface, it is a very complex form of art that is always evolving and never mastered. It has been studied, written about, and practiced for centuries by iconic people like: Jesus Christ, Sun Tzu, Gandhi, Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Winston Churchill, John Maxwell and many others, and yet, it seems there is so much more to be learned. From world leaders and military conquerors to companies, government agencies, sports teams, church organizations, etc, leadership is a fundamental part of life. In my leadership journey around the world, I have discovered three core principles, that if implemented correctly, will make the you the kind of leader everyone will want to follow.
1. Motivate and Influence People
To truly be a leader, you must have followers. In order to create followers, you must first have a reason for people to follow you. You need a vision of the future and a common objective that will result in a better tomorrow. You need a purpose people want to gravitate to. Once that is established, you have to be able to motivate and influence people to do the things they may or may not understand, may or may not like, or may or may not want to do to the point where they take ownership as if it was their idea. Easy right? As the well-known college football coach and television sports broadcaster Lee Corso says, “Not so fast my friend.” Because everyone is different, it takes skill to be able to connect with people on an individual level in order for them to trust you as a leader and be willing to run into a burning building if you ask them to. The famous leadership author John Maxwell exclaims, “People don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care.” This is where the “art of leadership” comes in. Here are the three most effective ways to build a lasting followership.
a. Take a genuine interest in people. The world has, and will always, revolve around people. Get to know them on a personal level. Learn about their significant other, kids, pets, hobbies, fears, insecurities, and life aspirations. Every person has unique characteristics that make them special. The better you can understand them and their talents, the better you can maximize their potential and help them achieve things they never imagined.
b. Empower people. Find out what motivates them (money, time off, awards, autonomy, etc), connect their passion and strengths to the needs of the organization, and inspire them to operate at their best. Challenge them on their weaknesses and build them up. Encourage them when they make a mistake. Trust them and give them the ability learn, grow, and flourish. When you empower people, they won’t let you down. A few years ago when I was leading a particular company, I met a man named Adam. He was working on a team helping manage the implementation of a very large and complicated technology solution. I met with him and the team on a regular basis throughout the life of the project. As I got to know him, I noticed he was extremely bright, but also very reserved in nature. One day while walking around the organization visiting with people, I stopped in and had an informal one-on-one conversation with Adam. I learned there was more to him than he let on. We talked about his family, career, and goals, which were all very impressive. Then I asked him, “Is there anything you could think of that would prevent you from achieving your dreams?” He answered, “Yes, I second guess myself and end up not following through.” I discovered Adam didn’t feel worthy. Deep down he knew he had talent, but he wasn’t confident he could really achieve the far-reaching things he desired. He hadn’t given himself permission to be successful. I recognized he needed clarity, focus, and a mentor. After working with him for a few months, he took off. He was on fire. It was as if we let a tiger out of a cage. The project he was working on was seamlessly migrated ahead of schedule and under the allotted budget. He would later go on to be a team lead and manager of various important endeavors. Two years later after I left the organization, I get a surprising telephone call from Adam. After 20 minutes of catching up, he disclosed why he called me. It was to tell me he had been promoted to a Director role, which was a major goal of his. He followed that up with a very emotional “thank you.” He told me it was because of me and my investment in him that he got promoted. That was a very humbling day that I will never forget. Regardless of whether I had anything to do with his success, the fact that he had a positive experience with me was gratifying. It reminded me that you never know the real impact you can have on someone’s life by just doing the right thing. Most of the time you will never know. But sometimes, you’ll get an unexpected call or email that will affirm the power of empowering others.
c. Recognize people. Everyone needs to feel appreciated. Develop innovative ways to shine a spotlight on people’s contributions. Whether it is through a formal program like employee on the month, something simple like taking people to lunch, or occasionally patting them on the back and sincerely telling them, “Great job. I’m proud of you. We are so blessed to have you on the team.” It’s the thought that counts. Creating a positive memory for people lasts forever. Regardless of the mechanism, people need to feel important. It’s the leader’s job to create a winning culture of valuing people. One of the easiest ways to do that is walk around and talk to people on a regular basis with no agenda in mind. The most valuable thing you can offer someone is your time. Make time for people. Put it on your calendar. People need and want to hear from the leadership. It uplifts people. It puts a pep in their step when they see that a leader cares and takes an interest in them. Try it. I guarantee you will see a big difference.
2. Grow New Leaders
The sign of a true leader is one that creates new leaders. Everything in life is temporary. Whether it’s our time here on earth or the amount of time spent in a particular role in an organization, it only lasts for a certain period of time. Smart leaders recognize that and are continuously focused on building the next generation of leaders to pass the torch along to. The best place to start is to understand the strengths and weaknesses of people. First, assign them to positions where their strengths can add immediate value to the organization and round the team out in the best possible way. That will allow you to instantly synergize the team, gain the most traction, and garner the highest productivity across the organization. Second, challenge people in their weaknesses. That can be accomplished by motivating them to advance their education, sending them to trainings, attending conferences, broadening their network, speaking in public, participating in community activities, etc. Third, I recommend pushing people out of their comfort zones. Move them around the organization so they can experience different aspects of how the organization operates. Earning respect for what other people do has a lasting impact. Each step of the way, you should be raising the standard of excellence for them and giving them increased responsibilities that involve stretching them, but not breaking them. You are doing that right when people go home tired every day and are excited when the traffic lights are green on the drive in the next morning because they can’t wait to get to work. Here is a test to see how well you have grown leaders in your organization. The next time you are away from the office on a business trip or vacation, pay close attention to the following: Does the organization run smoothly when I am not present? Does it seem like something is always on fire or are things under control? Do I regularly receive phone calls or messages that require my intervention? Do I find myself checking in all the time constantly needing to be engaged? If things are calm and well executed during your absence, you are leading in the right manner. If not, you might want to rethink your strategy. There’s a better way.
3. Set People Up for Success
At the end of the day, life rewards action and results. To be recognized as a great leader, you must be able to continuously lead the organization to success. However, a leader’s success is not measured by his/her own actions, but the success of others around them. This is accomplished when leaders are fully engaged, have clear priorities, are focused on the top objectives, and hold people accountable for executing their part of the mission. None of which can happen without effective communications. It’s leader’s responsibility to ensure all areas of the organization are communicating in harmony. Leaders have a strategic view of the entire organization and know when things are going well or not. Leaders are out in front and see what’s ahead before the rest of the team gets there. By providing valuable feedback to the team, it lets them know where they stand, if they are on the right track, or if adjustments need to be made along the way. It also eliminates surprises that can result in negative outcomes. In addition, leaders are problem solvers. They open up doors, remove barriers, and approve things to keep things moving. They provide guidance and direction, resources, training, equipment, tools, and anything else required to get the job done. They listen, observe, facilitate the problem-solving process, and empower people to make the right decisions that are in the long-term best interest of the organization. In short, a leader’s job is to maximize the performance of others, avoid pitfalls, and minimize the occurrence of missed opportunities so the entire team can consistently win. When people win, publicly celebrate the success and give all the credit to them.
Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric said it best, “Before you are a leader, success is about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” Most people in the workplace think they are there to serve at the pleasure of the leadership. That everyone is there to do what the decision makers tell them to do. Most people have it all wrong. The right situation is one where the leader is in the servant role. It’s the people throughout the organization that are doing the most important work. They are making the products, delivering the services, taking care of customers, and coming in on a weekend to resolve an issue. They are the subject matter experts that know how things really work, where the opportunities to improve are, and how to operate as efficiently as possible. They are the ones that are in tune with the consumer and how to best serve them. The primary role of a leader is to be engaged with employees and frequently ask the questions of: “How can I help you? What are your top frustrations I can help you overcome? What do you need to be able to be at an optimal level?” The best leaders are those that listen carefully, take a genuine interest in others, aren’t afraid to get in the trenches and get dirty from time to time, make the most sacrifices, visit sick employees at the hospital, remember people’s birthdays, and are working late behind the scenes to ensure everyone has what they need in order to reach their full potential. Being a leader is not about a fancy title, money, stock options, authority, or being liked. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about being an example. It’s about elevating others to a higher level of excellence. It’s about people, building a culture around relationships, and making the world a better place. When you can inspire people to be more in life, ignite a fire in them to be the next generation of leaders, and be a champion of other’s success, you will have become a true leader that everyone will want to follow.
I leave you with three important questions:
- How would others rate your leadership?
- What can you do today to influence others and make a difference in your organization?
- What will your legacy be?
To help you answer these thoughtful questions, I have developed an exclusive leadership assessment. Please reach out to me for access to the FREE evaluation and set up a FREE consultation. I’ll help you better understand where you and your organization may be and how to leverage it for better results.