In the past few months (make that years) I've read everything I can on the topic of leadership. Several bifocal prescriptions later, I know qualify for guru status.
Ostensibly, I'm gathering information that can help my clients. And I'm doing research for my own book. But mostly, I'm hunting for the elusive key that will unlock the mysteries I face daily in being a leader myself.
As I stand before the great wall of leadership titles at my local Chapters store, I wonder if there is anything more to be said on the topic.
There are books that will show us how to lead from the back, the middle or the front. They'll teach us how to lead like Jesus, Einstein, Colin Powell, Billy Graham, Attila the Hun, or even Harry Potter. Authors share their laws of leadership and secrets of success, which (oddly?) always appear in uneven numbers. Unless there are 10. Speaking of numbers, these titles tell us to run our business by the numbers - or not to take the numbers too seriously, depending on the author. Some of them wisely tell us not to take ourselves too seriously.
My reading has led me to the following conclusions:
- I lead from where I am. Back, middle, front, top, or bottom - it really doesn't matter. Your location in the organizational hierarchy or political pecking order is unimportant. Lead from where you are, even if it's the garage.
- I lead like myself. I'll bet you noticed you're not Einstein or Harry Potter. You have to find the leadership style that fits you. And you can. There is no secret formula. All those who dispense leadership advice, including me, can do no more than spark your imagination and point you in a direction for experimentation. Watch yourself in action. See what works. Change what doesn't. Here's where Einstein comes in. He's the one who said doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity.
- There is one law of leadership: Treat people like people. Respect their humanity. Demonstrate empathy. Acknowledge their contribution. If we treat people as "resources," just raw materials in the corporate success mix, they will know it. I used to work for an executive who barely knew who I was, let alone what I did. I felt I was indistinguishable from the photocopier and made weekly updates to my résumé. His successor asked my opinions, took my advice, shared his dreams, knew mine, and made me feel honoured to be part of his organization. For the first man, I worked hard. For the second, I worked well.
- There is a corollary to the one law: Show them you're human, too. Acknowledge your own imperfections. I know a man whose motto is "Flaunt your quirks." That may be further than most of us are willing to go. But showing your own humanity is attractive. We're working with smart people. They know we're not perfect. Why pretend to have all the answers? A willingness to be vulnerable can be disarming.
- I lead myself before I lead others. The days when "Do as I say not as I do" was an effective leadership tactic ended before we were born. We don't need to be perfect, yet we do need to be awake and aware of our behaviours and our interactions.
- Taking myself seriously will make me crazy and wreck my business. Seriously, we have to lighten up. Take your business seriously. Take your relationships seriously. Take the hockey playoffs seriously (if you must). But take yourself seriously and, next thing you know, you're on the nasty path to self-absorption, listening to ego, and losing your focus. Plus people will hide when they see you coming.
So what's my point? Maybe what the business press calls "leadership" is really better described as "interpersonal effectiveness." Leadership is no longer about getting people to line up behind you, follow you up the hill like good soldiers, and obey your commands. Leadership today means aligning diverse people to work on common projects to meet individual needs that may or may not overlap. As individuals, interacting with and relating to other individuals, we determine the outcome.
Field work: Notice. In your interactions with people, observe your habits. Do you really see them as people? Do you let them see you that way?