The Essence of Leadership

Ronald Reagan once said, “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” Seth Godin states, “Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work.” M.D. Arnold said, “A good leader leads the people from above them. A great leader leads the people from within them.” And finally, Johanne Wolfgang von Goeth once said, “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them become what they are capable of being.” 

If you look up types of leadership, there are many ideologies that consider what leadership looks like. Some say it is to lead from the front. Others say it is to lead from the rear. And some even say that leadership is about relationship and purpose rather than direction and action. The essence of leadership may be tricky to find. According to the dictionary, the word “essence” means, “The intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, especially something abstract, that determines its character.” So when we talk about the essence of leadership, we are defining the indispensable quality that determines its character. 

Leadership is less about what you do, and more about how you do it. To get someone to follow instructions and meet deadlines is not necessarily leadership. However, how you get someone to do those things is very much a part of leadership. There are many “leaders” who can get someone to follow instructions and meet deadlines, but how they do that is what determines their overall ability and effectiveness as a leader. Sitting in an office and barking commands does not make for a good leader. In fact, a good leader is rarely seen in their office and can be seen among the people they lead. Rupert Murdoch once said, “If the head man in a company is not working 12 hours a day, doing things, taking risks, but also standing with his people in the trenches at the most difficult of times, then the company loses something.”

People listen and act willfully when they feel they are valued and significant. Leadership must strive to help every person feel this way. To ask something of someone without first acknowledging their value and importance is not leadership, or to give someone a task that you are unwilling to do yourself is also a lack of leadership. Leadership is about being in the trenches with those you lead. The focus should never be on being the greatest, most advanced, or even the most respected. The focus should be on helping others become leaders by working alongside them, guiding them, and ultimately providing opportunities for them to lead. When leadership gives up the need for power, the opportunities and possibilities are endless.

So, back to the original question, what is the essence of leadership? What is the indispensable quality of leadership? I believe the answer lies in how we treat each other. Just as the quotes at the beginning of this post suggest, leadership is about helping others reach their fullest potential. It’s about working alongside those you lead. It’s about understanding each person, individually, and lifting them up so that they might lead alongside you. As leaders, we must seek to build positive relationships with those we lead. We must become vulnerable and be willing to take risks to help others reach their fullest potential. We must celebrate, encourage, and provide ways for others to lead. 

Leadership is not about being the smartest person in the room. Leadership is about being the most humble person in the room. Your greatness only lies in how you treat others.

Perspective Is Everything

The other day I was sitting and thinking about everything I have been through and worked on up to where I am now. I hold every degree you can possibly have, except PhD, maybe someday, however I do hold an EdD. My goal was to be a leader, make positive changes, encourage those I lead, be the leader I always wanted, and so on. Now, after 8 long years of graduate school, a Masters in Education, an Education Specialist Degree in Administrative Leadership, and a Doctor of Education in Leadership in Administration and Teaching, here I sit, still teaching in the classroom. Many times I have had mental conversations with myself that ended with, “What was the point?”

Perspective is everything. What I thought I would be doing is being a leader in the world of education. I thought I would be helping others reach their full potential as leaders. I thought I would be encouraging people in their strengths, helping them find their purpose, and showing them that they have what it takes to be great leaders. I thought I would be writing books on leadership, attending leadership conferences, and someday be asked to speak at leadership conferences. I thought I would be helping people reach down within themselves, find courage, strength, and confidence to lead passionately, purposefully, and selflessly. 

All of that is what I thought I would be doing. You know what’s funny, I am doing that. I am a public speaker every school year. I get to encourage my students in their strengths, help them find their purpose, and show them that they have what it takes to be great leaders. I get to see my students overcome their weaknesses and struggles, rise above them all, and find confidence to be great in everything they pursue. I get to work with students who have no self-confidence, and watch them find the confidence to be great leaders. I get to help students see their potential and encourage them, walk with them, and see them succeed. I get to be the leader I always wanted to be. It has taken me awhile to see this and realize that perspective is everything.

Do I still have dreams of leading conferences, engage in speaking events, and someday see my name on the cover of a book? Absolutely. Will I get there? Well, I’m no quitter, and I never settle for okay, so yes, I will be there someday. However, I am very happy having the opportunity to lead amazing minds in my classroom every year. I am happy to invest into my colleagues, my administration, and other leaders in my district. I am happy to seek out leaders from around the world, pick their brains, learn from them, and better myself as a leader and individual. Perspective is everything!

So, when you get to the point that I was, wanting to ask yourself, “What’s the point?”, take a step back, look at where you are, what you want to be doing, and see how what you are doing might be exactly what you want to be doing, but it just looks a little different. Don’t give up on your dreams and ambitions. Don’t settle for okay. Don’t lose your passion. Just take a moment and reflect on where you are. And most of all, never forget, perspective is everything!

Are You Open To Feedback?

One of the hardest things to do is sit through a meeting listening to ideas or thoughts that you don’t agree with. It’s even harder when the feedback is directly about you. When we are criticized, we have the tendency to build up walls, cross our arms, become angry, or choose to shut people down. Not being open to criticism, no matter how hard it is to hear, closes the door to change and self improvement. Truth is, there is a chance you might miss out on something big if you are not willing to listen to criticism. The more we openly and willingly welcome and accept critical feedback, the better leader we can become.

This doesn’t mean that every critic should be heard, and every criticism is something that you should listen to. However, if we choose to allow for criticism with an open mind, listen carefully to what is being said, and determine if what is being said is valid, then we have the potential of making changes that will have positive impacts. The key is to listen with an open mind. We are not always right, and our ideas are not always the best. However, if you do your job right as a leader, you will have a room full of creative, innovative thinkers that will help you process your ideas. This means that the people you surround yourself with should not be “Yes men.” They need to have different perspectives, different training, different ideas; they need to be different from you.

Having an open mind means you are willing to hear different perspectives. I will be the first to admit that I struggle with this myself. As I continue to age and mature, I have learned the importance of listening before speaking, uncrossing my arms and being open to what others have to say, and reflect on what is being said. I still struggle, but I am definitely farther than I used to be. Changing who we are to become better can be just as painful as stubbing your toe. There are times when it hurts like the dickens, and then there are times that there is a chance you broke it. Sometimes we need to break ourselves in order to be built up better. Forcing yourself to have an open mind and accept critical feedback is one of these times. 

Something that may help you take this step is to carry a notebook to meetings or presentations. When people start to give feedback, instead of getting frustrated or offended, write down what you are being told. Reflect on what you wrote down and determine how you could best utilize the feedback you were given to make your idea, initiative, or policy better. Having an open mind means you realize that other people have great ideas too. 

Again, it doesn’t mean that every piece of feedback you receive is valid. The second part of having an open mind is to be discerning. When you write down the feedback you are given, you need to discern if what was said is of value, beneficial, or if it is someone expressing a pessimistic point of view. Real feedback and criticism looks to help you think outside the box, encourage you to look beyond your own rose colored glasses, and make you think beyond your own initiative. When you surround yourself with creative, innovative thinkers, expect someone to have additions, corrections, or thoughts to add to your ideas. That is the beauty of surrounding yourself with a creative team. 

The goal for leadership should never be the smartest person in the room or be the one with all the answers. The goal of leadership is to “help those who work under you to one day work beside you,” as Brad Lomenick says. So the next time you present an initiative, idea, or policy have an open mind to feedback. There is a chance you didn’t think of everything, and someone might provide positive insight to make your ideas even better. And instead of being at the head of the department or organization, maybe take a more teamwork approach and build up those who are under you by listening to what they have to say and consider incorporating their ideas as well.

Appreciate Often

Humanity tends to focus on the negative aspects in life rather than appreciating the good that is all around. The mental state of many is dependent upon the words that they hear on a daily basis. As leaders, it is critical that we let those we lead know how valuable and important they are. Showing appreciation for the smallest things can go a long way. If we don’t focus on the good that is all around us, then our focus will change our leadership into a dictatorship. Those we lead need to know they are appreciated and valued.

As I stated before, the smallest amount of appreciation can go a long way. People need to hear they are wanted, needed, and that they matter. When all they hear is what they don’t do well, what they need to fix, what they need to change, etc., their desire to do well diminishes. When leadership only focuses on what people need to do better, they stifle the hearts and minds of those working hard so hard trying to be better. Would you rather work for someone who tells you what you need to work on and how you can improve with little to no appreciation, or would you rather work for someone who expresses appreciation for your hard work and dedication and provides guidance and support for you to get better? I know which one I would choose. Simon Sinek said it best when he said, “Be the leader you wish you had.”

Appreciation for others is one of the highest forms of respect. Appreciation forces us to think beyond the issues, troubles, struggles, and frustrations and look at the positives someone brings. However, showing appreciation every once in a while is not beneficial. Charles Schwab said, ““The way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement.” If leadership is about how one life influences another, then appreciation is a characteristic that should be foundational in leadership development. Start by showing appreciation for those you see often and move to those you see in passing. Tell them you value and care for them. Find a characteristic in people that is positive and celebrate it. It will feel awkward at first, but the more you do it, the easier it will become. It might be your simple word of appreciation that changes the mindset of those around you.

I have found that showing appreciation for people makes them do a double take. I have been given some strange looks just by sharing my appreciation for someone. What this tells me is people aren’t given enough appreciation. People find it foriegn to be told that they are appreciated and valued. Leadership should make it a habit to express appreciation as often as possible. Will people screw up, do the wrong thing, or make bad choices? Of course, we’re human. That shouldn’t change our appreciation of someone. Leadership is a mindset and action. If we focus on the problems and issues and neglect the building up and encouragement of people, then all we will see are the problems and issues. If you want a strong, forward progressing company or organization, then invest in your people. Share your gratitude and appreciation for them; especially when they mess up. 

People see leadership as an example to follow, and many take what leadership says personally. This means that leadership needs to be careful with their words. One of my favorite authors and speakers, Rock Thomas, expresses the importance of identity and the power of words. “The words that follow ‘I am’ follow you. The words you use after “I am” is who you become and how you define yourself.” Below is a link to Rock’s Goalcast video that focuses on building a positive identity. Showing and sharing appreciation for others is a way to promote and encourage positive identity building. This doesn’t mean leadership allows bad habits and poor work ethic. Instead, share what you appreciate about people while providing guidance, support, and encouragement. 

Rock Thomas, This Is How To Resist Labels, https://youtu.be/UFDBkDrCHXY

Confession Time

I have spent much time reflecting, writing, reading and pondering what effective leadership looks like. I have written what I believe to be the positive acts of selfless leadership. And as I continue to work through the meaning of selfless leadership, and the acts that accompany said leadership, I can’t help but stop and take pause to say, I am nowhere near perfect in living out selfless leadership on a daily basis. There are many days when I don’t do it well at all. However, it is still in my heart, by desire, and my passion to give and lead selflessly. It is only through constant, mindful reflection that I return to the true purpose of leadership and realize that I have a chance to do it right tomorrow. But isn’t that what leadership is all about? Doing your best, raising the bar, and when you don’t hit the mark, admit your failures, reflect and learn from them, and try again tomorrow.

Confucius once said, “Learning without reflection is a waste of time; reflection without learning is dangerous.” An effective leader is one who is in a constant state of reflection. One of my favorite authors, Brian Lomenick, once wrote, “People would rather follow a leader who is always real versus a leader who is always right. Don’t try to be a perfect leader, just work on being an authentic one.” I find these words to be the heart of what is missing in most leadership. Many times we try to have all the right answers, have the right things to say, do all the right things, etc. The truth is, leadership is not a position, it’s a person; and people are fallible. We gain more trust and respect from those we lead when we show our humanity, vulnerability, and authenticity than when we put on a front and pretend we have all the right answers. What does this mean? It means leadership will fail, and when we do, we need to be authentic, humble, and confess our faults. 

Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean you spend an entire work group or team building seminar confessing all your sins and faults to a group of people. What I am saying is when you make a mistake, own it. When you say the wrong thing, apologize. When your actions break relationship, seek to rebuild it. Humility is a missing trait in leadership these days. Turn on the TV, read the news, or watch social media, and you will see hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of leaders leading through arrogance rather than humility. As I said, humility is a lost trait in today’s leaders. It’s okay to be wrong, but it’s not okay to never admit you’re wrong. Humility is a hard pill to swallow, but when we do, it softens our heart and our eyes for the people we lead.

This post is titled “Confession Time” because I have to confess, I am not perfect at doing things right all the time. I can get caught up in emotions and lash out on unsuspecting individuals. I wrestle with doing the right thing at times, even when it is a simple act of kindness or being responsible. For example, walking down the street and seeing a piece of trash, I know very well that I should pick it up and do the right thing, but too often I walk right on by and leave the trash behind me. I know I should smile and ask how someone is doing, but my selfishness takes over, and I don’t want to take the time to engage or invest. I am not perfect, and I know I will never be. However, this is NEVER an excuse to stop trying to be the best me I can be. Once I beat myself into submission, I will walk back and pick up that trash or go back to the person and ask how they are doing. Leadership should never be about me, and selfishness is the hardest monster to defeat. But, the monster is beatable. 

I want to encourage you to fight the good fight of selfless leadership. I want you to know that you are not alone in wrestling to do the right thing all the time. I want to encourage you in your journey to be the best version of yourself you can be. It’s okay to make mistakes, just don’t ignore them. Own them, reflect on them, learn from them, and do what is needed to be authentic and real.  As the great playwright and poet, William Shakespeare, once wrote, “No legacy is so rich as honesty.” 

It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

Speech is one of the most interesting and most powerful aspects of humanity. Even more so, speech can influence, persuade, inform, discourage, encourage, and much more. But most of all, speech is less about what you say, and more about how you say it. Something that was not meant to harm, can be taken as harmful. Something meant to encourage, might discourage. Something meant to instruct, might hinder progress. Ultimately, it is very rarely what someone says that is the issue, it is how they say it. This is why it is vital for leadership to pay attention to how they speak and be mindful of who they are speaking to. If leadership is about one person influencing another, then paying attention to how we say things, and to whom we say them, is of most importance.  

Communication is a powerful tool, but when done poorly, it can lead to misunderstanding, confusion, and worse, broken relationships. It is crucial that we reflect on what and how we say something. As leaders, we need to remember that how we hear something in our head may not be how others hear it. In other words, know your audience. Know who you are talking to; and if you don’t know your audience, get to know them. Build relationships with those you lead. Find out everything you can about their personalities, likes and dislikes, and their story. If we take the time to invest in those we lead, we will know how to communicate effectively. 

There is a difference between telling people what to do and inspiring people to do something. As a leader, our job should be to encourage staff to be their very best. We should inspire others to be leaders themselves. Simon Sinek said it best when he said, “ There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.” Leaders must inspire others to be the best versions of themselves. This inspiration comes only by building relationships, understanding who you are leading, and helping others become successful. Inspiration does not come from numbers, charts, and surveys. Inspiration can only come from intentionality and authenticity.

Finally, when communicating with staff, patrons, or whomever, never communicate and expect something of them that you would not expect from yourself. People can see through BS. As a leader, if you expect others to do something you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself, you will lose all credibility as a leader. Leadership is about helping others become the best versions of themselves by being the example to follow. If you are not willing to put in the hard work, sacrifice, and time it takes to be successful, then don’t expect it from others. This means leadership must hold themselves to a high standard, be willing to work hard and sacrifice, and be willing to step in and do what they expect their staff to do. 

Remember, it’s not what you say that counts, it’s how you say it. How you communicate with those you lead will determine the success you see in your staff, business, and organization. Be intentional, authentic, and take time to understand who you are leading. Build positive relationships so that you know how to make what you say meaningful to those who are listening.

Promoting Safe Space As a Leader

WAIT! Don’t quit reading just because you read “safe space”. It is critical that leadership creates an environment where everyone feels welcome to share their thoughts, opinions, and ideas without fear. How many of you have sat in a meeting with an idea you wanted to share, or you had a question you wanted to ask, but you were too afraid to say anything due to the fear of being ridiculed, judged, or given a negative response? The expectations of a meeting should be set by the leader, and the leader should set the expectation that all ideas are welcome, all opinions will be heard, and everyone has something to offer. The leader needs to set the tone for the environment and then lead by example. Don’t just give lip service, rather, set the expectations for yourself and live by them. 

As a reminder, the foundation of leadership is about how one life influences another. During staff meetings, professional development, and team building, the focus should constantly be on how leadership is influencing others. If you find yourself asking questions in a group and getting little to no response from the group, ask yourself “Why?”. Don’t assume it’s the group’s problem or issue. Ask yourself if you are promoting a safe place for people to speak freely without fear of repercussions, or if you give off vibes that do not welcome the sharing of ideas. Rember, as a general rule, 80% of communication is nonverbal. Be sure to be the example people can follow. If leadership does not have an open mind to accept or hear what others might have to say, or they do not express the willingness to listen and accept others ideas through nonverbal lanugague, then don’t expect people to problem solve and collaborate with leadership. Leadership’s goal should be to influence staff in a positive and encouraging way, and to encourage the sharing of ideas and thoughts without fear. 

There are reasons meetings are quiet, and people have little or nothing to share. Speaking in front of peers and leadership can be intimidating; especially for those who do not like to be put on the spot. A good leader realizes that their employees bring amazing potential to the group, company, and/or organization. If people do not feel comfortable or encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas, that means potential is lost. Some of the greatest ideas might come from those you are leading. I believe people assume that leadership should be the one that has all of the answers, but the truth is, some of the greatest answers to the worst problems come from the people who are most affected by the problems. However, if leadership does not provide an environment or an opportunity for staff to share their problem solving ideas openly and safely, then leadership runs the risk of losing out on the answers they might need. 

Some might ask how to encourage staff to share openly in groups and meetings. If there is already a history of little to no collaboration happening in groups, then the answer is to address the problem head on. Leadership needs to take responsibility, share their views and beliefs openly and transparently with staff, and give staff the example of vulnerability. Again, staff look to leadership as the example to follow. If leadership is rough, abrasive, and quick to shut down other’s ideas, then leadership needs to self assess their effectiveness as a leader. I believe Colin Powell stated it best when he said, “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” Leadership must have an open mind and an attentive ear to allow others to share their thoughts, feelings, ideas, and opinions. Get rid of fear in the room by showing your staff your willingness and desire to hear what they have to say. Show them that you value their input and welcome their ideas. Fear stifles progress. 

Encouraging and establishing a safe environment for collaboration and sharing of ideas can be the difference between a successful organization and an unsuccessful organization. Have an open mind, welcome the ideas and thoughts of others, and be the example you want others to follow.

Who Is A Leader?

To restate John Maxwell, “Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.” This statement expresses that a leader is anyone who chooses to be one. Leadership has nothing to do with titles or positions held within an organization or company. The highest level of management may hold a high title, but that does not make them a leader. My hope is that companies and organizations are promoting people and hiring people for certain positions that possess or hold the qualities of good, strong leadership. However, leaders are everywhere. 

I have seen leaders in the lowest of positions. A leader is someone who cares more about those around them than they do their title or position. In the education system, we have people labeled teacher leaders. These are teachers who take on responsibility to lead, mentor, and help other teachers. They may not necessarily be in a position of leadership, but their actions and purpose have leadership qualities. Their focus is on helping their fellow teachers become better, supporting others in the profession, and some even take on leadership roles within their school and district. Teacher leaders are about being examples for others to follow. 

I believe there are leaders everywhere. However, people don’t know they are leaders because most people see leadership as a position or a title. I want you to remember, leadership is how we act and react toward people. As I mentioned earlier, there are people with leadership titles and positions that are not leaders. Their focus is not on people, but rather money, titles, and things. True leaders are those who focus on people over things. Leaders are the ones who find joy and value in seeing others succeed. Selfless leadership is purposeful leadership. 

With that being said, to anyone who reads this, I encourage you to be a leader. I encourage you to take up the responsibility of caring for, supporting, and encouraging others. Don’t be a man or woman on their own island. Leaders don’t live on islands. They have open doors, open borders, and open hearts. Real leaders invest in the people around them. You do not need a title or a position to be a leader. Listen intentionally, encourage wholeheartedly, and support unconditionally. These are qualities of good, real leadership. So the next time you go to the office, the checkout, the gas station, or wherever you call work, lead with purpose; lead selflessly. 

Leading Through Chaos and Crisis

Depending on your role in leadership, hundreds,  thousands, or even millions of eyes are watching you. They want to see what you do, how you act and react, what you will say, and how you will respond. In times of chaos and crisis, those watchful eyes are even more focused on leadership. It is not an easy feat to lead during these arduous times, as most are looking for answers, direction, and guidance.  Here are three objectives I believe are essential for leadership to be successful while leading during chaos and crisis. I understand that there are many qualities that are needed in leadership during difficult times, however, if I wrote about all of them, this would be a book more than a blog.

During times of disorder and calamity, it is crucial that leadership learn to be still. Panic breeds panic, and calm breeds calm. Your worst enemy as a leader is quick, brash decision making. Learn to be still. There is an old adage that says, “Before making a critical decision, you should sleep on it.” I understand that there are times when this is not possible, but the point is to take a step back, breathe, and not rush into a decision. Another way to to think about being still is to slow down. Slow down your thinking, slow down your emotions, slow down your mental state of mind. Leaders are responsible for those they lead, and when decisions are rushed instead of carefully considered, you run the risk of causing more harm than good. So before you act on anything, take the time to slow down, be still, and make well informed decisions.

Be humble. As people are going through a range of emotions during times of chaos and crisis, there is no doubt that you will be too. However, leaders are seen as examples to follow. Do not presume you have all of the answers; more than likely, you don’t. Do not give false hope, as this will do more harm than good. Do not take credit for something that others have been working hard to accomplish. Throughout the confusion and trouble, remain humble. Place credit where credit is due, give honest answers and feedback, and never forget, it’s okay to say “I don’t know.” As St. Vincent de Paul once said, “Humility is nothing but truth, and pride is nothing but lying.” Humility is the foundation in which trust is built. Remember, the leaders job is to support, encourage, and help those they lead. 

Finally, hold yourself accountable. There is never an excuse for poor choices, bad decisions, and a lack of integrity. Live by a code of self responsibility. When everything around you seems to be crashing down, things no longer make sense, and injustice may be all around you, hold yourself accountable to your actions, your motives, and your words. Do not let your actions become something that destroys your reputation. If you live by a personal code to take responsibility for your actions and words, then what you do and say will be more closely considered and well thought out. As a leader, be the example for others to follow. Be the example of what is right. Do not succumb to the desire to act out in frustration, anger, hurt, pride, or fear. Hold yourself accountable above all things.

If you have ever been in a situation where everything seems to be going wrong, people are doing more harm than good, the actions of others are having negative consequences, or everything you know seems to be crashing down all around you, then you will know how easy it is to react based on emotions and feelings or get caught up in the same chaotic mentality. Before you make a decision or take actions, slow down and be still. Be humble in your actions and words. Hold yourself accountable for everything you do and say. Be the example others can follow. Do not follow the chaos into more crises. Rather, lead others by doing what is right, when what is right is hard to find.

Are You Asking the Right Questions?

It is so important for leaders to make sure they are asking the right questions. I believe Steve Keating did a great job expressing how important it is to ask the right questions. The biggest take away, “Can you invest critically important time with your people to ask the right questions?” One of the foundational words in leadership: Invest!

Lead Today

When you ask the right questions you receive much better answers in return. I mention that because it’s very challenging to lead people that you do not know. Knowing them requires consistent communication with them and questions are one of the most effective communication tools a leader has.

If.

If they are asking the right questions. As a leader one of your primary responsibilities is to help your people grow. To grow into their potential, to grow into their goals, and to grow into a leader, if that is one of their goals.

Most leaders would agree with all that but here’s the problem. Too few leaders have asked the people they lead any of the questions that would help them understand the goals of their people. Too few leaders ask their people how they can help them stay motivated long enough to reach their potential.

As Clarence the Angel…

View original post 416 more words