Leadership Lessons by Mark Sanborn
May 1st, 2011
Leadership is a buzzword in today’s culture and is applied to areas ranging from the corporate business world to sports teams to nonprofit organizations. Although leadership may currently be in the spotlight, it has always been a critical factor in the success of an organization. I don’t believe leadership makes adifference; I believe leadership makes thedifference in your work and life.John Maxwell calls it “the law of the lid”: the effectiveness and ability of a leader determines how high people can rise and how good an organization can become. The better the leader, the greater the potential for the success of the team or organization. What Makes a Leader?We’ve all known or even worked for managers who seem to figure the title automatically made them leaders, and that is a mistaken idea. In a rational organization a title confirms leadership ability, but it doesn’t bestow it. It takes more than just the title of manager to lead people in the right direction; in fact, sometimes the most effective leaders have no title at all.Joe Klein in his book Politics Lost defines a good political leader by asking three questions (paraphrased):1. Is he or she strong?2. Is he or she trustworthy?3. Is he or she interested in people like me?I believe the same three questions define leaders of every type. The first question of strength is about competence, and the ability to get the job done. Nobody wants to follow an incompetent leader.The second question deals with character. If you can’t trust a person in little things, how can you trust them in important things? This is an integrity question and it is critical. Leadership is about creating commitment and getting people to follow because they want to, not because they have to follow. And commitment is always based on trust.You can be a person of good character and competent skills, but the third question is, in my opinion, what really makes one a leader. It is a question of connection. People rarely change outside of relationship. It is relationship that truly moves others. If you aren’t really interested in me and my hopes and dreams, why would I follow you?
Understanding Characteristics of a Leader
Leaders focus on solving problems and creating opportunities.
Every organization has its challenges. Leaders are able to respond appropriately to a challenge and teach employees problem solving and conflict-resolution by their own example.
Rather than the typical managerial method of making the problem go away, keeping others focused on the ultimate goals and mission of the organization are key for the leader. A leader embraces challenges and uses the issues as learning experiences to help them create better solutions.
Future-focused leaders naturally create a positive environment for employees, which means there will be greater employee retention. Set goals with employees-both organizational goals and individual employee goals-in an effort to connect them with the mission. By doing this, leader-managers can better understand exactly how employees’ personal goals can merge with the organization’s goals.
But it isn’t enough to put out fires. Effective leadership is about helping people and companies achieve new goals and go to places they’ve not been before. Problem solving is necessary but certainly not the most exciting part of leadership.
Much has been said and written about the importance of vision in leadership. Vision is having a desirable goal of the future. As important as that may be, the more important skill is what I call visioning: getting people to help achieve that view. It isn’t enough to see what the future could be; a leader makes a compelling case and motivates others to join him or her in creating it.
Choosing to Impact Lives as a Leader
True leadership is several steps beyond being a manager in that it reaches a deeper personal level. While a manager might simply go through the motions and check off duties and tasks, a leader is searching for deeper meaning through her company and individual management role. For a leader, the job is more than directing employees; it becomes a mission to influence people within an organization to surpass their own potential.
In other words, managers work with people where they are and often maintain the status quo, while leaders focus on taking people to the next level, improving the performance of the individual and in turn the company. It becomes exciting to go from being a manager to a leader, from doing what is necessary to striving for what is possible.
Making the Change from Manager to Leader
It may be easier than you think to leave the management hat behind and become a true leader. Perhaps as a manager the stress of having too much power and control over employees has become a burden. A move toward leadership means a shift in power-going from power over employees to creating powerwith employees. Releasing yourself from all of that control and power can be a rejuvenating and encouraging experience.
Other areas to focus on as a leader include:
It is possible to become the type of leader-manager who is a driving force for change and growth within an organization. I believe that making such changes will bring a new joy and ambition to your career. Developing into a leader and going beyond a management role will require you to boost your creativity and career passion, while significantly improving the overall health of the organization.