Leadership is an attribute that crosses boundaries of business verticals and technical disciplines. How can we become successful leaders in the workplace and in life? To understand successful leadership, we must realize that leadership inspires others to follow us to a particular destination or series of destinations. Often this is defined by accomplishing a certain number of tasks within a specified time frame, usually defined by specific metrics. While this is one measurement, successful leaders are better known and defined by the leaders they create. Leadership is often viewed as positional, i.e. “the boss.” However, even those without a title can demonstrate leadership through behaviors and accomplishments, both their own and their team’s.
Creating new leaders requires a review of how other leaders think and act, along with a constant renewal of the principles of leadership. Here are a few to think about:
- People follow people who show an interest in them! Your co-workers, subordinates, superiors, vendors and customers, all want to make a personal connection on some level. Some want this more than others. Show them that you are interested in them by remembering your previous contacts and ask them about the things you discussed in the past. Use this conversation starter to move into the new discussion you need to have. It shows that you valued your past interaction, remembered it and want to continue building a relationship.
- Have a definite goal in mind when you are speaking with people about a project. Be clear on what you want to accomplish and seek input from the team. Modify your approach when the information is valuable and acknowledge the person or group providing it. Share the credit and people will be inspired to provide more valuable input. When someone consistently provides good suggestions or advice, give them an opportunity to take the lead on the activity where they are providing the spark.
- Periodically review the progress against the goal. This routine should be regularly scheduled and informal. Spend time with each of the key individuals that you have identified to sharpen their focus and get updates and new ideas. Start each conversation with the first tip when conducting regular one on one sessions.
- Be available for unscheduled discussions. Often people will have ideas or issues outside of the scheduled meeting scope. Great leaders will make time for this. It shows that you value their work and the relationship you have formed. If you are approached at an inconvenient moment, acknowledge that you have heard them and set a time for a follow-up discussion. Make sure to have that discussion on time.
There are various ways to reach the leadership level where you have the rank and title of supervisor, manager, or director. You may have come up the “hard” way by starting as a file clerk. You may have started off at the low-end of management or formed the company from scratch. Your vision drove you, and your experience in gaining technical knowledge sustain you in the position. Now it’s time to share the details of what you learned along the way. If you are in the corporate sphere, you will need to train your team and a few replacements for you and them. Failure to do this will result in you remaining in your current role because there is no one else who can do what you do. Ok for job security, not good for advancement. The best leaders develop people who can do what they do both technically and culturally.
Perhaps you don’t currently have the leadership role you aspire to. Lead anyway! Share the vision that you have for how things can be. Step up to the plate and share how that vision can be a reality. It may be a process that leads to better productivity or a better method for achieving a goal. Share it with your manager, team, other departments. While you may be nervous about doing so, remember that leaders are courageous individuals who take prudent risks. When these risks are successfully navigated, others will see the success, and give you greater opportunity to take risks and lead others in doing so.
Leadership is more than simply making the numbers. It is about how you help others to meet the numbers and grow to the point that they can do so without you. It is about how many of the people who work for and with you advance in the organization and their careers. By helping others to learn how to lead, you create value for the organization and develop a network of leaders who can work together and do great things. This is true in a for-profit enterprise and social organizations as well. It is particularly important in parenting relationships. Leadership isn’t a job, it is a character trait that extends beyond our jobs.