Our work at Lead Today has taught us a peculiar fact: many of us [leaders] have found ourselves in positions of influence almost by accident. Through the years we have worked hard and have been promoted. This reward is expected; however, the skills that got us here are only a portion of what we need to be successful today.
To be effective leaders, we need to regularly climb the Mountain of Perspective before hiking back down into the action. The daily grind will have a way of impeding a leader’s vision. When we work too close to the battle without stepping back from time-to-time our vision can often be described like the age old saying, “He can’t see the forest for the trees.”
Imagine sitting on top of a mountain. Other than the breeze, it’s quiet. This is where I want you to be even if you’re not physically there. Go there right now using the power of your imagination. If you cannot do this due to distractions, come back later when you can.
I assume you are now in a quiet place to consider important thoughts. The following concepts need to be contemplated outside the whirlwind of leadership. As implied earlier, many leaders now find themselves in a role much more demanding. As a result, you may be sensing that something is very wrong. You may have grown confused, angry, and cynical. You might be saying to yourself, “This is not what I signed up for.” On the other hand, you may be loving where you are and what you’re doing. In either case, the following precepts are ingredients every leader needs in order to develop healthy leadership attitudes and behaviors.
LEADERSHIP IS A HIGH CALLING
It’s a choice. It’s birthed from a desire to serve. It’s about doing what needs to be done. It’s about working with a clear purpose and vision. It’s about the cause. It’s about the people. It’s about doing what is best no matter how difficult the realities might be. It is hard work requiring personal sacrifice for the benefit of all.
We’ve all seen it; we’ve all experienced it. Whether at home, the fast-food joint, the local house of worship, the construction site, or in the executive suite – we’ve seen one of two attitudes: do the minimum or the “And Then Some” attitude. I’m talking about initiative, accountability, and ownership. People who are doing the minimum are obviously not empowered by calling. They are only showing up.
On the other hand, every once in awhile, you run into a person who goes above and beyond the Call of Duty. I call this, the AND THEN SOME attitude. They not only did what I asked, they did some more. They exceeded my expectations. They were inspired and their attitude inspired me! You can tell when someone is working from a sense of calling.
LEADERSHIP IS ABOUT PROVIDING HOPE
Hope is about a better future. No leader is qualified to paint a picture of hope if they cannot feel and describe the reality and pain of the present. The most effective leaders connect with followers by embracing the reality of the present while providing a clear vision for the future. The vision must be both compelling and possible to create the change desired.
Leaders start cultivating hope within their followers as soon as they are able to prove they are in touch with reality. Platitudes that look over the heads of followers are viewed as “pie in the sky” or “out of touch”. Instead, leaders must sincerely gain the confidence of their followers by demonstrating first-hand knowledge of the fight either by giving time to truly listen and understand or by getting their hands dirty side-by-side with their followers.
Perhaps one of the best examples of this type of work is seen in recent history through Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Here’s an excerpt of his famous speech known by many as the “I Have A Dream” speech:
“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!”
You may not be taking on such a burden as Dr. King; nonetheless, the people you lead need you to paint a picture of hope and opportunity.
LEADERSHIP IS ABOUT PRINCIPLES
Principles are rarely displayed in neon lights. Instead, they are an accepted or professed rule of action or conduct. They are sometimes subtle. They are the “actions” springing forth from the deeply held values of the leader.
Principles are like the rudder of a ship. Your team members do not see them as much as experience their effects. Without much fanfare, they quietly go about guiding the ship consistently and securely on the way toward the vision. It’s this kind of leadership that shapes culture and provides a path for the next generation of leaders to follow.
Your principles of leadership are usually birthed from your menu of idealism. For example, you might embrace one or more of the following thoughts about what leaders should believe:
I care about the person as much as the production
I model what I expect from others
I am here to help my team members experience success
Notice that each of the above examples are not only in the realm of what you might expect, they are also abstract in nature. In order for your leadership principles to become consistent actions, they need to be expressed in concrete terms and consistently practiced. Remember, you do what you believe.
Though every leadership context is different, below is an example of principles spelled out by actions rather than words:
The captain is last to leave the ship
Ultimately, I take responsibility for our failures
As the leader, I eat last
I am the first one here and the last one to leave
My door is always open
As the leader, I will be the last to be paid
I give the team credit for the success
Leadership is difficult and those who are called will be tested. Be encouraged, understand your vision, and lead with strong principles!