Have you ever heard the phrase, “he or she is a born leader?” I don’t believe that to be true. We are not born knowing how to be a leader. We learn how to lead from our culture, environment, experiences, parents, teachers, and even books.
And, true leadership has nothing to do with titles or organizational charts. Nor does having the responsibilities of a leader necessarily make someone an effective leader. That became very apparent when the world was hit with the pandemic: COVID-19. We quickly learned who were the true leaders and who only held that title.
COVID-19 has been a critical stress test. It has challenged—and continues to challenge—every contingency plan and risk mitigation strategy every leader has had in place. How does one lead when you can’t see the road ahead?
The pandemic feels like a marathon, not a sprint, and with no real “end date” in sight, more than likely, more changes are still forthcoming as leaders continue to adapt.
Over the course of my various career chapters—as a news anchor/reporter interviewing global leaders, heads of state, and now as an executive communications coach of many CEO’s and high level C-suite executives—I’ve witnessed the urgency that exists today in developing new leaders and empowering them so that companies stay relevant, retain great talent and continue to be successful in the future, however, the leadership and management needs of companies have changed, and it’s not only because of COVID-19.
Leadership now needs to occur at all levels of a company, not just at the top. And no matter what your leadership skills and abilities are today, you can always learn to be a better, more effective leader.
Effective, successful leaders tend to have certain traits: they are competent. They have the skills to do the job well. They may not know how to do everything, but rather, they have the ability to know what to do and how to get it done.
They are trustworthy. Their words and actions are in sync. When trust is present, leaders are able to motivate and inspire others. They also know how to listen. Communication is key, in both directions.
Effective leaders also bring passion and authenticity to everything they do and that energy is contagious. And, great leaders bring vision.
Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric between 1981-2001 was famous for saying, “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion” (2020).
It starts by being self-aware—self aware of what your strengths are and an honest assessment of where your weaknesses lie and the areas in which you need to grow. I refer to these as “development opportunities.”
Leadership is also about influence. Influence is not to be confused with power or control. It’s not about manipulating others to get your way. While one COULD call it “power”—and yes, the elements of leadership have been about taking charge—there is a subtle difference.
When presenting leadership workshops, one of the topics we discuss is the difference between being a manager and being a leader. Management consists of controlling a group of entities to accomplish a goal. However, leadership refers to an individual’s ability to influence, motivate and enable others to contribute toward organizational success.
Richard Jaffe, a philanthropist, retired successful entrepreneur, and coauthor with his daughter Charly Jaffe of the book, Turning Crisis into Success: A Serial Entrepreneur’s Lessons on Overcoming Challenge While Keeping Your Sh*t Together discussed the differences between the two roles and he describes it in this way: “Managers get their authority from above and a leader gets their authority from below, their followers. If you want to know who the leaders are, just look at who people are following” (2019).
In simple terms: Managers have people who work for them. Leaders have people who follow them.
Managers create circles of power. Leaders create circles of influence.
How do you have influence? It comes down to relationships. Leadership is about relationships. Effective leaders are skilled practitioners of relationships. They know how to get people to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do. They are able to deliberately create and challenge results by enlisting the help of others.
Forming, maintaining, and sustaining relationships and becoming a true leader is more often about the soft skills than the hard skills. We’re talking about your EQ (emotional quotient).
Leaders with a high EQ are more intrinsically self-aware. They listen and communicate clearly, encourage creativity and offer new challenges with ample support to achieve goals.
If we demonstrate more the principles of leadership, then no matter what role or position we hold, we can all be the leader within. But it requires true introspection and probing of what you believe in and why and from where this belief comes. This is your leadership philosophy.
It begins by discovering the themes and patterns of your life. These themes—common threads—run through our lives like rivers or patterns that repeat themselves. When you begin to recognize and acknowledge your unique themes and patterns, you will begin to discover your story. What is revealed is your leadership philosophy.
It gives me great pleasure to work with clients and guide them to not only discovering what their themes and patterns are, but how it leads to figuring out what their leadership philosophy is and how they arrived at that concept.
Discovering the themes and patterns of your life often takes some time, but when you make the effort to do so, you can become a better leader. It is a choice.
So, ask yourself: Do you really want to be a leader? Are you willing to get out of your comfort zone and stretch yourself to grow, be more authentic, even vulnerable?
If you are willing to stretch yourself, if you choose to lead, and can lead yourself, you can lead other people. The leader within you will rise.
Written by Liz Brunner.
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