Leadership 101: Unleashing The Leader Inside You

Man helping other person up a mountainLeadership is not a position, it’s a decision. Every day you must decide to embrace your inner leader, making the choice to lead in a positive way. Right where you are, at whatever place you currently find yourself in life, be it personally or professionally.

Leadership is multifaceted. For our purposes I’ll breakdown what I’ve come to see as leadership essentials. Over my professional life I’ve been blessed to observe, and live out many of the ideas shared below. I have been a student of leadership and personal development for many years.

Before I begin sharing what I believe to be important leadership skills, I’ll concede there are other ideas that I may miss and could easily have been included. If you want to share any I’ve missed by all means let me know, by either dropping me a note, or leaving your thoughts in the comments below.

If you’re ready let’s get started…

The Essential Ingredients of Great Leaders

* Leadership is not a position or job title

As I stated above, leadership isn’t a position, it’s a decision. Many people mistakenly think they aren’t in a position within their jobs to effect change. They think if only they were the “boss” they could really make a difference. They would run things in such a way that things would be different. That’s a common way of thinking, it’s just that it’s wrong. First off, there’s absolutely no guarantee that just because someone holds a title, or position of authority that what they say will be adopted. Sure, you can set policy, and in theory everyone will follow it, but that just isn’t always how things work out in the real world is it?

I want to challenge you to rethink the way you look at yourself. If title or position of authority doesn’t determine your ability to be a leader, then what does? Well, your willingness to live out the role of leader in the given area of your life. Regardless of where you are in the org chart, or what is expected of you in the context of where you find yourself.

Consider the following example:

It’s common in companies of all sizes, particularly those over 10 to 20 employees for silos to exist. By silos I am talking about the way some departments, or those who work on specific items in the business tend to branch off into cliques, or “teams” within the larger company as a whole. If we’re not careful this can end up with those in the silo feeling as though it’s them against the rest of the company or organization. This can limit contact and collaboration with members in the company. While this is common, it isn’t a good thing. It can lead to a number of real challenges, especially as the company grows. This can cause a number of problems unless you address it. Not the least of challenges is that it can lead to those within areas of the company feeling left out, while others feeling territorial about particular tasks, as opposed to everyone working in synergy towards creating positive results for the company, and those it is meant to serve.

As you can imagine, we could discuss the importance of why breaking down silos in an organization is important, literally until the cows come home, but instead, allow me to share something you can do about it.

First, for this to work you will need the mindset that you’re going to step up, take ownership of this challenge, and in doing so show leadership. If you are ready to do that, here’s a step by step plan you can put into action to accomplish that.

  1. State or write down the problem, or situation you want to change.
  2. Identify how things would look, and what differences would exist if the thing you set out to change became a reality.
  3. Brainstorm actions you can take which will help bring the desired change about.
  4. Do those things.
  5. Continue taking those actions, evaluating your progress along the way until the change you’re after takes hold.

If you want to break down barriers or silos make a point to say hello, and engage in conversation with those outside your immediate department. Yes, it’s a simple thing, but it can make a real difference. You don’t have to engage in deep conversations nor even push to form deep friendships. The main point is that you take an interest in others and show the willingness to be friendly to others outside of your immediate co-workers or peer group. This can be accomplished by simply making a point to tell others hello each morning — or whatever time you see them. It isn’t even about how the other person responds to you. Some may ignore you initially. By being consistent in this simple idea and being genuine in this way you will begin to see others open up and act in kind.

I have seen this happen numerous times over the years in my own life, and that of others. Give it a go. It will make a real difference in the environment with which you work, and live.

* Great leaders are not dictators

If you think you can make a suggestion, or set a new rule and everyone will magically adopt your idea with little to no resistance you probably aren’t being realistic. Assuming you have the proper level of authority you might get people to go along with your changes, albeit without any real buy in. This is likely to lead to its own problems, which stem from resistance towards whatever it happens to be.

I’m not saying everything has to be a consensus, nor does everything have to be voted upon, or even be agreed upon by all involved. What I am saying is you don’t want to take the approach that it’s your way of the highway — or at the least come off that way. Even if that may be the case, state your case tactfully so you don’t come across as a bully. You could win, but lose at the same time if you’re not careful in how you approach this.

To avoid coming across in that manner be sure to share your reasoning behind the changes, and what you hope to gain from them being put into practice. You can also check in with others to make sure the changes that are implemented are actually getting the results you hope they do. Keep the lines of communication open so people know that you value their input.

Great leaders make people feel like part of the team. Sitting on high and barking down orders doesn’t help others feel valued. And it definitely doesn’t foster a team environment. Again, I’m not suggesting you can’t be specific, and expect hard and fast rules. That’s a given at times, what I’m saying is how you “deliver the medicine” can make all the difference. Another reason you want to be open is that you may find that someone else actually comes up with a better idea than what you’re proposing. If those around you don’t feel comfortable openly sharing suggestions they likely won’t, which will ultimately stifle not only the effectiveness overall, but your own level of success as the leader.

* The best leaders develop other great leaders

This is an area that I’ve never really understood. It would seem obvious that the great leaders would tend to leave a trail of other people who go on to become exceptional leaders themselves. In fact, that is what happens a lot. Study the lives of the best leaders across industry, the military, sports, you name it, and you’ll find a pattern where those who spend time under the best leaders tend to go on to do pretty incredible things themselves. That would certainly make sense.

Knowing the above is true, what doesn’t make any sense are those people who somehow get into positions of authority, and end up feeling that if those below them develop as leaders it will somehow keep them from moving up the ladder and getting ahead. Yet, it happens far too often. In fact, I would say that if you have someone who doesn’t have at least a few people who have spent time working with others in your organization, who didn’t grow from having worked alongside them it’s worth exploring what happened. As leaders, developing and building up others should be one of the most important measurements of a person’s ability to lead.

It’s easy to produce on a personal level. What takes more talent is being able to multiply your own skills, and impart them onto others you work with. Doing so is essential to the long term success of your organization.

Here’s an example: Often you will hear of a terrific salesperson that does well and exceeds their own personal quota. The natural inclination in some companies is to promote that person to the position of sales manager. While this may seem like a sound idea, it isn’t necessarily the best idea. The reason is that the skills needed to succeed in sales, to “do what it takes” to meet your numbers, doesn’t guarantee that the person has the skills needed to transfer their own unique skillset to those they are responsible for, the other members of the sales team.

To further illustrate the point let’s have a look at the world of sports, particularly a few coaches who have been especially successful. As we look at them notice how many of their assistant coaches, and those who worked with them went on to experience success in their own careers.

Let’s look at Coach Nick Saban, who is the head football coach for the University of Alabama (at the time of this writing). He worked with coach Bill Belichick, who at the time was the head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Coach saban eventually became a head coach in college football, during which he has worked with the following coaches who have each gone on to become great coaches in their own right: Kirby Smart, Jimbo Fisher, Mark Dantonio, Will Muschamp, Jim McElwain, among others.

That is just one example, where quite literally we could have come up with countless such examples.

Make a personal commitment to leaving a legacy of creating other great leaders from those you are around, and work with. If people aren’t getting better, and excelling professionally as a result of having spent time in your presence you need to get honest with yourself, and begin doing what needs changing so that they are. No excuses!

* They are committed to their own professional development

They continually learn and stay current on trends and best practices in their profession, industry, and area in which they operate. They strive to learn and become better everyday. They realize that being an expert takes time and an ongoing commitment, but that in doing so they are capable of delivering the most value to those people and organizations who count on them.

There are lots of ways to accomplish this. Begin by scheduling personal development time each day into your schedule. You have to be intentional about this.

If you have to, set a daily reminder that pops up to tell you to do it.

Learn some soft skills, things such as how to sell better, how to be a better leader, etc. The point is as you study in these areas you will pick up new ideas, which overtime will help you to grow.

Additionally, commit to learning the latest happenings in your particular field or industry. This simple idea, done daily can make you an expert. Many people enter into a job and never seek to get a deeper understanding of best practices associated with it. Don’t be that person.

The two ideas above will pay great dividends if you will do them going forward. Since you have to spend time in your field anyway, why not do the things that will help you excel? If you will do so you are sure to benefit greatly.

* They lead up

Those who really get leadership make a conscious effort to support, and help those in positions of authority above them be more successful. Remember, leadership isn’t about authority or position. Even still, those in positions of authority almost always have someone they report to as well. I have heard a variant on “leading up” countless, times, but I would be remiss if I didn’t single out Craig Groeschel (an amazing leader & author) for talking in depth on this. You can see a video clip of him sharing on “leading up” here.

When I talk about leading up, this isn’t the same thing as kissing up to your boss or others. Instead you’re helping others to succeed. Whether by sharing ideas that will further the goals of the team, or by stepping up and offering to contribute above and beyond what’s expected of you in your normal duties. When you help those above you (and all around you for that matter) those who are in a position to reward you take notice. Even in the rare instance where the person you have helped doesn’t acknowledge it, someone will. Of course you’re not doing good to get noticed, while that’s often an unintended consequence, the reason we lead up is because doing so ultimately makes us better for it.

Finally, consider these wise words from Leadership authority, John Maxwell who said,  “As a leader, the first person I need to lead is me. The first person that I should try to change is me.”

I encourage you to commit to fully developing your leadership skills. Apply the ideas shared above and the time you give to doing so will serve you greatly.

Key Takeaways:

– Leadership is a decision and can be exercised by anyone, regardless of their position or job title.

– Breaking down silos within an organization can improve collaboration and communication, and can be achieved through actively engaging with individuals outside one’s immediate department.

– Leadership requires taking ownership of problems and taking action to effect positive change.

It’s Your Life, LIVE BIG!
Josh Hinds
Josh Hinds is the founder of GetMotivation.com, and author of the motivational book It’s Your Life, LIVE BIG

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