Casey received his first leadership position because he was one of the best at actually doing his job. Did that mean he is capable of teaching others how to do their jobs? Not at all!
Leadership challenges are nothing new to most of us. Whether we are leading a team at work, leading our children, or even leading ourselves, we must understand the difference behind leading and following.
Think, for just a moment, of the best manager you have ever had. How long ago did you last work for this manager? If you answer, “now,” you are a rare breed. Most people surveyed respond with, “years ago.” In some cases, it was more than 50% of their work life ago.
Take a minute and write down the five greatest traits of the manager you named. As you review this list, place a check mark next to the traits that you would classify as leadership and an “X” next to the traits that you would identify as managerial. We will come back to this later.
During World War II, Dwight Eisenhower demonstrated leadership in a number of ways. One story talks about how he went to the tent where his troops were mapping out where to cross the river. Eisenhower pointed at a spot on the map and said, “We will cross here.” One of his troops said, “We cannot cross there, Sir.” Eisenhower asked why not. They told him they were not sure how deep the water was. Eisenhower pointed to his dampened pants leg and said, “It is this deep.”
Leadership by example has been, and continues to be, the most successful form of leadership. The concept can take many different forms, but is expressed well with the phrase, “If you’re gonna talk the talk, then you gotta walk the walk.” Are you that type of leader with everyone in your life? If not, why not? Research says that human nature is to please others, rather than taking the point position and leading.
The question remains, are leaders born or are they made? The answer is, both. Some leaders are natural. Others need to learn the art of leadership. I believe that there are many more who need to learn leadership skills than are naturally born with the skills.
There are four major characteristics of leadership development that we must excel at to be effective leaders today:
- Strong People Skills: One of the main reasons leaders fail is the simple fact that they have poor people skills. Many new managers were promoted to their current position because they did their job well. That doesn’t mean they know how to train others to do the job well. Understanding the fact that not everyone is just like you (the world would be pretty boring if they were) is a strong beginning. The most important factor to remember is that it is not up to the other person to match you, but instead for you to match them.
- Excellent Communication: Some people say that this trait is overrated. I respectfully disagree. Over 80% of our waking hours are spent in some form of communication. Communication includes reading, writing, speaking and, of course, listening. Think for a moment about today. What have you done so far? Now, what percentage of the day has included these four factors?
I suggest that you need to take the time to make sure your communication skills are up to speed. This need will never be more evident than if you deal with different cultures around the world. Non-verbal skills make up over 50% of overall communication, and vary drastically with different cultures and nationalities.
- Lead by Example: Just as Dwight Eisenhower did during WW II, we must be prepared to do the same today. This does not mean that you have to have completed the same schooling, or even performed the exact same task as others, to be a strong leader. It does mean that you lead by example with an excellent work ethic and good decision making. Try this simple test; the next time you go out to a store, look to see if you can locate the manager, and observe. Then take note of the staff, and watch how they move. Do they move at the same speed as the manager? Remember, as a leader, you are a role model.
- Put Time into Goals: A great number of Americans believe in goal-setting. Many put their goals in writing. Unfortunately, only a small percentage actually put significant time into achieving their goals. How much time you put in depends on how big your goals are and how fast you want to accomplish them. A recent study showed that about 1/3 of Americans would be willing to work a 70-80 hour week for a large payoff. If we are willing to work for someone else, then we should be able to work on our own goals.
Your followers will begin to model their leader, and if you possess these traits, then it is likely that they will as well. If you don’t, then likely neither will they.
Let’s go back to your best boss. If you are like most people, you probably marked most of the items on your list as leadership traits. Now, look at your own career. Are you focusing on managerial traits or leadership traits?
If your employees were asked to write down the name of their own best boss ever – would they write down your name? If not, why not?
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