“All of us, at some time or other, need help. Whether we’re giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That’s one of the things that connects us as neighbors—in our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver.”
― Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers
Following the wisdom of Mr. Rogers, I also believe that each one of us is a leader and a follower. You might be the leader of your organization, family, social group or all of the above. Who looks to you for leadership? How do you lead?
Dictonary.com defines a leader as person who guides or directs a group. In my experience, defining leadership is not that easy. I was blessed to spend a year at The University of Tennessee engaged in the Consortium for Social Enterprise Effectiveness program with amazing, accomplished colleagues and professors. We spent hours tackling and exploring the question of what makes someone a strong leader. We did not find consensus but adopted strong leadership as complex and multidimensional; largely defined through the eyes of each, unique follower.
Much has been written and spoken on this topic. Undergraduate and graduate degrees are earned through the dedicated study of leadership. The word” leader” is found on desk nameplates and business cards. Does the title “leader” mean you have arrived and mastered the craft of leadership? I have come to endorse the definition and practice of leadership as dynamic and evolving. My concept of strong, capable, inspiring leadership continues to mold and strengthen as I live and learn.
In doing research for this blog, I became interested in the science behind those that are destined to lead. Does birth order influence the likelihood that someone will become a strong leader? I have always been under the impression that first-born are naturally inclined to lead. The data from this bestpsychologydegrees.com article highlights the names of well know leaders that are first, middle, youngest and only children. As I reflected on this data, I realized that I have personally known, respected and worked for excellent leaders that were born on different rungs of the birth order ladder.
Others turn to the wisdom of the zodiac to inform their leadership theory. Vocativ reveals in this recent study that most world leaders are born under the Scorpio, Leo and Sagittarius signs. What is it about being born in late October, November, December, late July or August that would predispose you to becoming a leader? Once again, when I reflect on the many leaders that I look to for guidance, I realize that their birthdays are celebrated throughout the twelve calendar months.
I have come to accept that there is not enough time in my present day to continue this curious quest into “all things leadership.” So, with immense gratitude for the actual leaders that have inspired me on my journey, I share the following thoughts on leadership (part 1);
“Learn to lead- not just for yourself, but for the people who follow you.” –John Maxwell
John Maxwell is my favorite author/teacher on the subject of leadership. His words give me the needed push to continually grow as a leader. It is without reservation that I recommend his works. A few of my favorites are The Maxwell Daily Reader, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership and Today Matters.
Teambuilding Pays Great Dividends
Strong leaders carve out intentional and consistent time to bring their team together. In my experience a well-designed, collective presence contributes positively to the overall dynamic. I am a strong advocate for gathering with a purpose and working collaboratively to make it all happen. I recommend that you begin each session together with a relationship building activity. The activity doesn’t have to be lengthy or over the top with emotion, yet it will yield great benefits to all. It is through relationship that everything happens.
Multitasking Be Gone
Technology has gifted us with a global reach. Its benefits are woven into much of what happens in today’s world, at work and play. That being said, I have yet to know someone that can be both committed to checking and interacting with their phone and truly engaged in a meeting. It just doesn’t work. I suggest that you set norms around technology use for your gatherings. Create the agenda and forward it to team members before the meeting. Limit bird walking; honor start and stop times. Respect their time and expect a high level of engagement in return.
Every Day is a Job Interview
You never know who is watching you, learning from you and taking note of your strengths. Conduct yourself in alignment with your core values at all times. Be proactive and professional as you lead yourself, others and your mission forward. Life can present you with incredible opportunities that you did not see coming your way. Watch for them; earn them.
Listen, Then Listen Some More
The number one emotional need of employees is to be heard. Examine your leadership style. Evaluate the flow of communication throughout your organization. Value the voice of all. Vary the combination of people that you invite to join you at the decision making table. Schedule regular one-on-one meetings with your employees and utilize those times to honor, listen and truly hear their input. Attentive listening deepens quality relationship and contributes to your growth as a leader.
Lead with a Servant’s Heart
Look for the best in those that you are blessed to lead. Approach leadership as a service to them. Seek that which can be removed from their path so that they can soar. It is better to give than to receive. Make the professional growth of all a cornerstone of your culture. Ask the questions that enable others to identify where they want to go and provide growth opportunities to help them get there. A team member that knows they are honored and growing is a thriving employee.
I had to label these lessons “Part 1” because there is so much to share. I would love to hear back from you. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share. What are your lessons learned on leadership? What are your favorite sources of inspiration on the topic?
I encourage you to embrace both the leader and follower within you. Grow yourself through study and self-reflection. Respect those that you follow and through your service strengthen their leadership. Take the role of leader seriously, others are influenced by you daily!