Being a leader is distinct from doing what leaders do. You can read leadership books your whole life and attempt to copy what other great leaders do, often at the cost of your individuality, but that alone will never make you the leader you want to become. Here’s how you can actually make it happen.
The following is an excerpt from Keith’s Winner’s Path Weekly Newsletter.
I love Sunday mornings. I get to wake up to a quiet home, lean back in my favorite chair with a hot cup of coffee and take time to just think. Even if it is only for 5 minutes. Inevitably, I end up doing a mental review of the prior week and then take a moment to think about what I have planned for the week ahead. I trust you get a chance to do this regularly as well.
When I was thinking about what to write this week, my mind kept returning to an article I wrote a few weeks back. It was basically a really long list of leadership characteristics. In that post, I shared about how I get to travel around the world and connect with the most amazing people. Each person I meet when delivering my program, Coaching Salespeople Into Sales Champions, has such interesting stories to share which are all truly unique. I think that’s why it is still so fascinating to me every time managers from across the globe, who are all accustomed to such distinct cultures and traditions, almost always end up answering the following question the exact same way.
What Makes a Great Leader?
At the start of my training, I ask the managers and executives who are sitting in the room, looking at me (often wondering if the next two days are going to be worth their time), why they want to be a leader in the first place.
Think about the question for a moment. If I asked you this question, how would you respond? What would you say? I’m guessing your answer would have a lot in common with the thousands of other responses I’ve gotten from incredibly bright leaders around the world.
The number one answer I hear is, “Because I want to make an impact.” Paradoxically, to achieve this vision of leadership–a vision of making an impact–requires the leader to do less and be more. To help those around them shine brilliantly, while they step into the background behind the spotlight and focus it on others instead.
I’ve made it a habit of writing down their answers to this question on a whiteboard as they list them off. My recollections of going through this exercise hundreds of times is what served as the source material for my recent article.
If you took a look at this list, you probably saw some characteristics of great leaders that resonated with you. Characteristics such as adaptable, organized, empathetic, trustworthy, empowering, selfless, creative, consistent, authentic and so on (and that’s only 9 out of about 80!).
You Don’t DO Leadership
These are not skills or activities a leader needs to do—they’re characteristics that embody who a great leader is! What I end up with on the whiteboard or flip chart every time is a list of characteristics not competencies. Every time I share this thought with a new group of leaders, I can literally see epiphanies in action on their faces. It’s great! At that moment, it begins to click for them that leadership is so much less about what they do than it is about who they are!
Beliefs Precede Acumen
Being a leader is distinct from doing what leaders do (tweetable). The doing is the byproduct of your thinking. And thinking like a leader is never something anyone can get away with choosing to do only when it’s convenient. It’s unconditional, even in the face of adversity when you might be challenged to compromise your integrity or do what is best and right for the company or for others. Leadership is about doing what is best and right for your organization, your society and for your community both local and global, and unfortunately, such choices don’t always translate into being what’s beneficial or enjoyable to you, personally. But this level of leadership will always allow you to retain a position of absolute integrity.
Look around you. Look at the economy, your business, the marketplace, the state of our global society. Think about the problems we are faced with, the conflicts, financial meltdowns and issues that you hear about on the news every day. There is one common worldwide denominator. A glaring lack of truly great, ethical, selfless leadership.
Think About Your Thinking
Great leaders communicate in a deeper, more engaging ways because they listen intently to others. However, what’s more important is who they are being and how they are being perceived in that conversation. They shed their egos and display far more interest in tapping into the wisdom, talent and individuality of those around them than they do in trying to prove something or be right all the time. In every conversation, in every interaction, it comes down to the experience and feeling generated in the hearts and minds of those you’ve interacted with that will determine whether or not you are a truly powerful leader.
The word I always place at the top of the list in this exercise to describe the greatest leaders I’ve known, is vulnerable. It’s interesting to watch managers and executives shiver when I share this. But I’m not referring to making yourself vulnerable in a way that would place you in harm’s way or allow others to take advantage of you. I’m referring to being vulnerable in a way that makes you human. It’s only after opening yourself up and being truly authentic that you’ll be able to foster the type of deep connection and trust with others that allows meaningful relationships flourish–the types of relationships enjoyed by all great leaders. After all, there’s a reason why the greatest leaders have many followers who want to be part of what that leader stands for; a shared, collective vision that ultimately stands for the betterment of society, themselves as well as their organization.
Leader at Home, Work, and Play
I strongly believe that when you think like a leader in all aspects of your life, emulating these characteristics of great leadership, the byproduct is then the behavior of a truly great leader which then leads to achieving the desired results more consistently with less effort. You’ll become the type of leader that ignites positive change in your people as well as the desire to want to change. Rather than motivating others through threats, fear and consequences, you will inspire them by what is good, best and right and, most important, from their perspective, not yours.
It’s the characteristics, rather than the doing or activity, that determine whether you are an A or a C leader, at home and in the office; the same way these similar characteristics distinguish between the A and C salesperson. Doing, simply isn’t enough. Beliefs precede skill set, experiences, and results. And who you are is always more important than what you do.
Photo Credit: Keith Nerdin