It’s April and the sun is trying to shine; which means that “spring” is here and all of us are fathoming how to start gardening without putting all our plants at risk! I recently had a socially distanced visit with my ex-department head (thanks Lisa and Ron for coming), bringing the department’s retirement gift to me. In the process of receiving the gift I was asked to think of the one piece of leadership advice that I felt needed to be shared with others. Whew, what a question!
This got me to thinking about a whole slew of things, some of which I thought were worth sharing with you in this newsletter. They all relate to leadership in one way or another; are the product of many years’ making mistakes; and involve the lessons I have learned about being a leader. I want to debunk some myths about leadership; and provide three life lessons worth considering….
Myth #1: Good leaders are born that way. This is poppycock! Most great leaders become leaders. Their paths are scattered with hard lessons, and crises. Many of them had no aspirations to be a leader and most were surprised when they found that they enjoyed helping others succeed. Yes, good leadership is all about helping people around you be successful, and can be learned!
Myth #2: There is a shortage of leaders. This is simply not true. Although you constantly hear gripes about “the vacuum of leaders”, I would challenge the assumption that this means we cannot fill positions. It’s far more appropriate to state that many of us are concerned with the quality of leadership. The good news is that skill development helps improve the quality of leaders. If you agree with me, then make it your job to be the best at leading that you can.
Life lesson #1: If you don’t know who you are, then its likely you wont know what you stand for or what you’re willing to fight for. The best leaders are those who are authentic – they can be counted on; you can trust them; and they communicate what they stand for by living out their values. This life lesson means that all of us need to spend time knowing how our past has influenced us, what we value and what really gives us purpose.
Life lesson #2: If you want people to be loyal to you and to follow your leadership then you have to connect with them in a deep way. The most effective way I know of doing this so that people feel you are genuine is to “create a circle of safety” around them. What, you say?! Especially at times like these, namely during a pandemic, people want to know/feel that someone is looking out for them while they go about doing their business. This circle of safety allows a group to have confidence that their peers will nurture them and will have their backs. Such a circle results in everyone in the group having respect (not affection) for each other. Your job as leader is to bring those who feel like outsiders back into the circle.
Life lesson #3: The top competencies of being a leader are calmness under pressure and inspiring hope for the future. You can demonstrate great resourcefulness and command a great budget but in my experience these competencies are nought if a leader cannot show resilience or belief in the future. Becoming unhinged when the heavy winds are blowing results in followers finding someone/something else they can trust in. This truism is consistent for your job as leader in the family or in your job. People want to believe that you can take the hard blows and still be the person you claim to be.
So, as I complete my list of myths and life lessons, I am mindful of the funk that many of us have fallen into as a result of the news about escalating COVID numbers. It is so critical that we find strength during this time, as many are watching and evaluating how we crumble under the pressure.
Knowing yourself is key to continued inner strength; and the other life lessons mentioned above are important elements that will demonstrate your concern for others at this time. We have just come through Easter as I write this and the symbolism associated with the celebration are worth contemplating.
We need to put our old habits as leaders aside and assume new ones that will provide guidance and hope to the people we lead. Some of you reading this will shrug and say that this doesn’t mean anything to you, because you aren’t in a titled leadership role. I remind you of the roles you all of us play in our families, communities and smaller groups at work. Though you don’t possess a title to these roles they definitely constitute leadership. It is in all this activity that I ask you to consider the life lessons mentioned above. Keep well and keep safe.