Let’s go quickly through two very useful lists that will help you contemplate leadership. You can assess for yourself your own performance level, or that of your officers, in each of these areas.
The first list is called leadership excellence. Essentially, this is a collection of leadership competencies, practices you need to develop continuously.
- Tone setting
- Coaching (feedback)
- Coaching (development)
- Decision making
- Courage and risk
- Relationships and power
- Innovation and change
You will notice that leadership competencies are not the kind of thing we turn on for work and turn off when we get home. They largely define who we are.
I’m going to guess you ran through that list pretty quickly. That’s one of the reasons all of those books and articles don’t have the impact they could—we go through them too quickly without understanding what they truly mean.
Look at that list again and ask yourself: What does each of these mean to me? How do they appear in my life? How good am I at putting them into practice? What are some examples of when I was really good at each one and when did I fall down on occasion? What can I do to improve in each area?
If you’re really courageous, ask people you work with or live with how good you are at practicing those leadership competencies.
To see the real power of your personal leadership, look at that list again and think about parenting. If you have kids, you can look at it from the perspective of being a parent. If you don’t have kids, you can look at it from the perspective of having been a kid. Some of the names of the competencies may be more formal or sophisticated for leadership than ones we would use when we talk about parenting, but the idea is the same.
See what’s happening here? Leadership is not just about work and it’s not just about being at the top of an organization. It’s about leading people so that they can become their best. Sounds a lot like parenting.
The actor Michael J. Fox made a great comment that applies perfectly to leadership: “I have to accept the idea that what I do may not affect me in my time. And so my responsibility is greater than to myself. And there’s great joy in that on a selfish level.” It’s about self and others. We develop our selves so that we can give to others. The result is we receive in return. The secret of leadership is you have to give first before you receive.
From this list, it is easy to see that leadership is a way of being. The second list speaks to characteristics of effective leaders:
- Able to delegate
- Good communicator
- Has a sense of humor
- Has a positive attitude
- Able to inspire
These characteristics form the foundation of a leader that makes the first list possible. Looking at the second list again, it’s obvious how your leadership extends beyond work. To varying degrees, these characteristics are needed in virtually all of your relationships in every aspect of your life. That’s personal leadership. It shows itself in how you interact with the world.
If it’s not clear to you yet, let’s spell it out: you are already in a leadership position. You may not know it. You may not think so. You may not feel it. But you are. If you thought you couldn’t be a leader or thought the responsibility was too great, take a look at your life. You’ve been doing it day in and day out for years.
Are you in a relationship? Have kids? Involved in social organizations like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, or your community religious group? Do you teach? Are you an employee? A friend? These are just some of the numerous ways in which your leadership comes out. Don’t discount it. Personal leadership is not defined by your paycheck, whether you have a membership at the country club, or the position you hold. It’s an attitude about self and the people around you.
You could come up with any list you want. Just as you could own 20 books on dieting and personal finances, you could easily come up with 20 different lists of competencies for leadership excellence as well as characteristics of effective leaders. You could debate exactly which characteristics and competencies are more important than others.
All too often, however, discussions like that end up in splitting hairs and creating new and fancier labels and buzzwords for things we’ve known for 20 centuries. Don’t waste a lot of time trying to reinvent the wheel. The answers you’re seeking are already inside you. We don’t need any more classes talking about what leadership is; we need classes showing people how to tap into it and live it on a daily basis.