Before You Can Lead Others...
“Before you can lead others effectively…you must first be able to lead yourself.”
During my work for the past decade, both running and consulting to companies at every level of the business spectrum, I have noticed a curious and extremely prevalent trend. Individuals throughout the organization can tell you clearly what they want and need in a leader, the words come fast and sure - you know that they have been thinking about it. The bookshelves are bulging with leadership volumes and every major city has at least a dozen leadership seminars running in hidden hotel meeting rooms on any given week. In addition, study after study (as we shall see) all point precisely at a handful of attributes that the overwhelming majority of workers agree constitutes the skills, behaviors and attitudes of an admired leader. Yet in this country and around the world it would seem, there is a dearth of quality leaders.
Before I answer that question, let me lay a little groundwork. In preparation for writing this article I spent several weeks reviewing more than 30 studies focused on the characteristics of "exceptional, admired, outstanding, and effective" leaders. In total, the literature spanned almost 20 years, 4 continents, and 50,000 respondents - touching on literally every size and type of business/ government/ educational/ and nonprofit institution. I also read more than two dozen of the most highly regarded and recommended leadership texts. After careful analysis and compilation, this exhaustive research pointed to basically six "universally accepted" attributes of an admired leader - the kind of person that people truly want to work for.
Vision - the leader must have a clear and compelling vision of the future.
Integrity - a leader must have explicit values - and live them in both word and deed - consistently.
Inspiring - through excellent communications on all levels, the leader must help others to share in the vision and believe it to be worthy of their time and maximum efforts.
Belief in People - the leader must have a fundamental and strong belief in the value and potential of every person that works with them and demonstrate that through trust.
Competency - the leader does not have to know how to do everyone's job - but they must do theirs very well. Hand-in-hand with competency goes a personal commitment to lifelong learning - continuous personal improvement.
Attitude - attitude is highly contagious. The leader sets the tone for all they come into contact with. An optimistic, yet realistic, "can do" attitude is a must.
There is nothing revolutionary here. These are solid, time-tested leadership characteristics that most workers agree with readily. Yes, there might be special types of leaders or certain situations that call for additional traits, but on the whole this list is covers the bases. As a matter of fact, I have shown this list to numerous people and they all indicate that would love to work for a leader that maintains these qualities. Unfortunately, when I ask them if they currently do, the answer is most usually "no."
Why? It is the difference between intellectualizing these traits, and internalizing them. Anyone can read a book or attend a class and learn this list. They can discuss, analyze, memorize and theorize about leadership - which is really quite easy. It is one thing to know and understand these attributes -- but it is something entirely different to LIVE them.
To be a leader that possesses these qualities is a life-changing commitment. It means that you must accept total responsibility for your actions, behaviors, and attitudes. That you must hold yourself to a higher standard, that you must "lead by example." That is very demanding work indeed - and a task that far too few leaders are willing to undertake.
Once again the questions begs, why? The answers are as numerous as the poor leaders giving them. Some of the recent ones I've been told; "I don't have enough time," or "that may be what people say, but all they really want is more money," and "I don't need all that stuff, either they do what I say, or they don't have a job." Do these sound familiar? Can you think of a few you have heard?
I believe that the real reason is simply that they are unwilling to do the hard personal work necessary to obtain and maintain these traits. For, before you can effectively lead others, you must first be able to effectively lead yourself. This is a very biter pill to swallow for many -- it means that the "do as I say, not as I do" way of managing will no longer suffice. It demands that they undertake some serious self-examination, pushing for new levels of self-growth - toward becoming a strong self-leader. It sounds rather simple, but to "model the way" one must strive in earnest to be an exemplary model.
Failing to recognize and respond to this leadership imperative can have far reaching implications within the organization. Because people look to leaders for guidance and purpose, their every action and work carries extra impact. In fact, leaders project their attitudes and personality on to the people around them. Therefore, if leaders lack a deep understanding of themselves - their values, beliefs, attitudes, goals, and biases - they can unknowingly cast a dark shadow onto their enterprise, with chilling effects.
On the other hand, a healthy, mature and self-aware leader can unleash massive creativity, motivation and success from the people they lead. This is the responsibility and reward of leadership. Making a difference in people's lives, helping them to grow as professionals, people, and citizens of the world.
John Spence is a contributor to FranchiseHelp.
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