It’s been while since I left the 9-5 corporate workforce and pursued a more creative career, however micromanagers popup whenever you least expect it – even when you’re working independently. I’ve built a large support team for some of my engagements, and the one thing most candidates mention as one of their career aspirations is to get into a leadership, or management role. Without exception, I always ask them: Why?
The art of leadership is a goal set by virtually everyone I interviewed for any position thus far. It is claimed by many, defined by a few, and exercised by a few unsung heroes. We think we know a lot about leadership, but it is the application of leadership that defines a true leader.
Do a quick Google search on leadership and you’ll find a plethora of leadership books, courses, conferences and programs, containing a never ending combination of theories about true leadership – and they all claim to uncover the absolute truth and key to leadership success. True leadership however, is a very individual concept, exercised in many diverse, yet successful ways. Indeed, success in any form always equates to perceived leadership. This is one of the key principles I teach my authors in my Write a Book in a Week program. Unsuccessful application of leadership skills however, is, without exception, counter-productive. One could argue that was one of the main reasons for me to write my book about happiness at work – which became a number one hot release on Amazon on it’s release day. So, is what I teach another theory, promising you golden mountains and unbounded success? No. Instead I’ll share with you some of my observations about where to look for true leadership. True leadership is not about defining it, but about recognizing it when we see it – as well as it’s counter-productive opposite.
Natural leaders exercise leadership regardless of what they’re doing, even from positions not formally designated for leadership. It’s those individuals that are always causing a problem for the organization they work for. The informal leader creates all sorts of problems for “leadership” in the “official” position. We often see this in groups that start to address particular problems in any enviromment; if no one is specifically “in charge,” the leader who emerges is often the person who demonstrates the most passion about the topic. The group tends to gather behind the “visionary”. This type of leaders are passionate about achievement of the community as a whole, not of themselves individually. These leaders are usually not publicly recognized, because they don’t blow their own horns. They are too busy working toward meaningful goals to be distracted by something as counter-productive as public recognition.
Leaders who are passionate about their vision (these leaders ALWAYS have a vision), are determined to make sure everyone in the organization knows what that vision is. They will make sure everyone gets on board with their idea, so that what they’re trying to accomplish no longer is just a vision, but a tangible part of the everybody’s environment – often to the point where it goes home with team members at night. Everything that happens next is a reflection of that vision, because the vision becomes the beacon that guides the actions of everyone in the organization.
Those leaders know their people well: their personalities, their histories, their passions. This true leader knows his team because of the leadership involved in attracting and retaining the right people to “get the job done.” They reach back to the theory of W. Edwards Deming (I teach about Deming’s ideas in my service management class). His theory ensures adequate and continuous training. If the right people are in the job and they are given the resources to get the job done, cheerleading is a waste of time, because these workers already get out of bed in the morning excited about going to work. Do your team members a favour and read that paragraph again – most North American managers I’ve met so far would miss the point: motivation.
When a team member is truly motivated, they don’t need fancy slogans or mantras, let alone weekly or even daily meetings to cheer about historic events. The “self-actualized” person is also self-motivated. They know their jobs, they know what’s expected of them, and they know that they have a responsibility to the rest of the team to do the best job they possibly can. Any team not performing to this universal standard has a problem at their hiring level, not at their execution or operations level. Don’t confuse the two. Revolutionary? No, it’s been in the books for decades. In case you missed it – it’s in my Happiness book, too. Do yourself (and your team) a favour a get a copy on Amazon today.
When true leaders develop this kind of team, they are freed up to do the visionary tasks: keeping the goal in sight, and making the course corrections necessary when changing conditions require them. From a management perspective it means you’re constantly working yourself out of a job – removing yourself from the equation as much as possible. Anyone who has ever worked with me in the past has heard me use this sentence at least once – use your best story in the comments below.
Interested to develop your own leadership skills? Here are some things we can do as individuals:
1. Stay focused on the goals for your company. Never let yourself be distracted from that.
2. Surround yourself with the right people for the job you need done. This is about personality, not about mindset. The skills you can train, as well as provide your team with adequate tools to do the job.
3. Recognize the benefits of having different personalities around you. Many books are written about building a team, and all of them speak about combining many different personalities. These different people will bring different approaches that will prove to be instrumental to your team’s success.
4. Having hired the right people, get out of their way. If you must micromanage them, you don’t need them. Any form of micromanagement is always, without exception, a sign of lack of experience of the higher management involved. Lucky for you this problem will typically solve itself: anyone being micromanagement typically won’t stay around for long anyway since you treated them with so little respect.
5. Always consult your feedback – regardless of what you’re doing, treat all feedback as valuable. Feedback ensures things are working as you expect, and that you can make appropriate changes when needed.
6. Know when you have exceeded your limitations, and acknowledge it. Get help to overcome your obstacles. Recognize that the mind that has created a particular problem in your environment typically cannot resolve that same problem on it’s own – eventually you’ll get there but without the outside set of eyes from a coach or mentor you’ll get to where you want to be a lot faster.
The good news for anyone I’ve interviewed so far: Each of us has the capability to be a leader. However, we will only become effective leaders, when we dare to be our true self, lose our fear of making mistakes, and share responsibility for achieving the goals of the organization. If those goals align with our individual measures of achievement to some extent, then the organization will continue to succeed, grow, and achieve remarkable things. If they are not, we will be the transient leader that gets things going, but fails by failing to share credit and push for only the good of the organization.