“Your ‘true north’ cannot be redirected by external pressures.” – Bill George
So now you’re a manager — the boss, the CEO, the big cheese — and you’re suddenly called upon to lead your group or organization to greatness. There is a tendency to try and act like a leader first, and rely on the title to get your employees or co-workers to take action. Don’t. In fact, as Bill George suggests, this is the time to be true to thine own self, and not let the pressure remold you into the kind of leader you’re not.
I’m not saying potential leaders and leaders-to-be shouldn’t read all they can on the subject of leadership style or technique, or study the nuances of the great leaders in history. I’m saying that there are very few good ones, often because people who become leaders start acting as they think leaders should, rather than leading from a less contrived place. Most pretend, using their title as cover, assuming trust, respect, loyalty or obedience simply comes with the shiny new desk. You know it and I know it: False leaders rarely garner real respect, thus their followers only reach a very small portion of their full potential.
The pretending leader
Avoid pretending to know it all. Never ever be afraid to appear uninformed on a given subject with your clients or your employees. The world is changing too fast to know it all, and the leader that pretends to be clairvoyant or insightful on every subject rarely is. One of my favorite phrases in leadership settings is “I don’t know, what do you think?.” It’s rich with wisdom and authenticity, and generally activates the team to think more deeply about a topic rather than deferring the thinking process to the almighty leader. You are very likely surrounded by brilliant people, so harness their intellectual firepower.
In a recent discussion I had with Chip Conley, the CEO of Joie de vivre Hotels in California and author of the business book “Peak,” he shared: “Authentic leadership is about being confident, transparent and humble about what you do not know.”
The litmus test of a truly great leader is in a philanthropic setting, where no one is getting paid
Are you able to arouse a trajectory of action for your group toward a positive, albeit arduous, cause? Not a cause everyone wants to be involved with because it’s en vogue, mind you, but one no one wants to be involved with?
Lead a capital campaign for millions of dollars, assemble a new group, club, or organization, and have it sustain beyond your involvement. Certainly, it can seem like trying to herd cats into a barn without the enticement of food. The great thing about working in these endeavors is that you find out exactly how good you are and where you need to improve.
Like sport, leadership is an activity, not a position. And it embodies a series of traits both innate and learned. The important thing is to understand where your particular strengths and weaknesses lie, and set about improvement. The philanthropic setting happens to be the best place to expose the exact type of leader you truly are.
A leader’s job
Your job as leader is to create an image or vision of what your organization will look like six months and three years out, and then proceed to accomplishing two things with that mental image:
• Plant it in the minds of your team and continue to affirm it. They should see the same picture.
• Hold that image in your head regardless of the economic, supply, labor conditions or any of a myriad of storms you will encounter. Your success does not come from circumstance. It comes from influence and actions.
The above two tasks are yours as the leader. You cannot defer or delegate them, and are two of the most difficult skills to master. Training your random, chaotic, doubt-filled mind to remain steadily on task will require every bit of willpower you can muster. But as with all things, you will improve with practice.
Now the good news
You may be a good leader, or actually quite poor at it. The good news is that whichever you are is largely irrelevant. Poor leaders can get better. Good leaders can become great. So read all you can on the topic of leadership. Actively seek a mentor but resist the urge to pay one. You’re looking for someone who generously wants to see you succeed and exhibits the leadership qualities you wish to cultivate and develop. To be a good leader, be a good follower. Develop your own authentic style of leadership, and don’t pretend to act like a leader, or do what you think a leader should do. Be richly sincere, be boldly inspiring, be more than you were yesterday. One look around at our world today should confirm that we’ve never needed true leaders more. So I wish you much luck on your journey, because frankly, we all need you right now.
-original article published in the Asheville Citizen Times Sunday May 16, 2010
Find John Miles on twitter: www.twitter.com/integritiveJM