On Leadership

We all strive to be better leaders.  We read books, take classes and go through all our "leadership" training courses in our careers, yet so few people seem to really grasp the core concepts of leadership. I have been privy to witness all kinds of leadership in the military and in my corporate career and although I am no expert, I've observed a few things, learned from some great like John C. Maxwell, Stephen Covey and Andy Stanley and ultimately leadership has started to come easier for me over the years.

Let me give you some background…

When I was 17 years old, I helped launch a non-profit corporation from concept to grants and funding to running the business.  The non-profit was a grant based volunteer organization that had out reach programs to local youth.  In the beginning of this project, we were interviewed by local press and I ended up on the center stage, the next thing I knew I was being called the “leader” of this group by various forms of the press and media.

Over the next few years I learned some of the most important "secrets" of leadership.

People follow dreamers/visionaries and those that can inspire others to do great things over smart people or those with the right pedigree and credentials.  People follow leaders who take action, not those who talk, analyze and spend excessive amounts of time waiting for perfection.  People follow those who “Don’t follow the Crowd”  They grasp a vision and run with it, wort's and all.

For better and worse, this non-profit project was a success. I was proclaimed a local hero and given accolades and awards for my endeavors, but this also led to me getting an ego and thinking I knew it all at age 20.  Hubris.

I once taught a leadership class to a room full of successful leaders.  Each of these individuals lead groups and teams from 5-100 personnel.  However, I argued that most of them were managers not leaders. I told them if they wanted the biggest leadership challenge of your life, take off their rank and titles and go lead a non-profit organization of volunteers who are not being paid to work there. Inspire these people to show up day after day and work selflessly.   This type of leadership will challenge every character trait you have and teach you a lot about people, yourself and your strengths and weaknesses.

In the real world, there a lot of managers but few true leaders.

Leaders - lead and inspire people with vision and action. Managers - manage tasks, projects and inanimate things.

In the past few years, I have attempted to take my leadership to another level in that I truly express my care for the people on my teams.  It's not all about me and my agenda.  I care for their personal needs and endeavors; I coach them with finances, faith and help them in any way possible, regardless if I ever receive anything in return.  I often spend my own time and money to help others in small ways.  It's true altruistic, empathetic leadership.

A true leader cares about their people, not about tasks or objects or about what upper management or the status quo thinks.  You truly care about what is inside of each one of your teammates and you let them know that they are great people.  You inspire them and mentor them to become greater.  This does not mean you let people get away with substandard performance, missing deadlines or not reaching goals and expectations.  It just means you put people above all this.

I also have learned the power of influence.

Often titles, rank and position have nothing to do with who really makes an organization run effectively.  There are always special people in every organization who have all the connections, they have great rapport with people and they remember to help the little guys on the bottom and the big guys at the top.  They are the real movers and shakers of the organization.

These people are the influencers.  They may be anywhere in an organization; the mail room, middle management, at the local espresso stand or the gatekeeper to the CEO.  They have so many friends and connections in the organization that they literally “walk between the raindrops" and seem to just make things happen.

I have learned to try to occupy this role by networking with people at all levels and helping them solve problems.  I am the "go to" guy.   This often requires building relationships outside the work environment as well.

In the movie Wall Street, Gordon Gekko said “Information is the most valuable commodity I know of

I always strive to become an information portal and push information out to those who need it in order to help them with their activities and solver their problems.  It's putting their needs before my own.  I call this a social investment.

This is not to be mistaken for “brown nosing” but an honest information exchange and full honesty and authenticity to people at all levels of an organization. While most people try to suck up and impress the big guys, I have frequently talked with leaders echelons above me and given them an honest assessment of their problems, while providing viable solutions.

I am by no means an expert and I am far from calling myself a great leader, more like a masterpiece still in progress.  Yet, I feel deep satisfaction from the frequent emails, phone calls and notes of thanks for truly caring and truly giving in my own unique way.   When people know that you really care, they want to work with you.

A True Master of this style of leadership was the Apostle Paul and in the future I will give a post on why the Apostle Paul was the master leader and influencer.

If you suffer from management, I challenge you to get out of this role and develop your traits as a leader, it is in all of us, it just needs to be developed, honed and practiced.