Social movements; work places; medical facilities; governing bodies; educational institutions; charitable and international organizations. All of these are filled with groups of people who need and want good leadership. Good leadership, in fact, improves their lives and, secondarily, the lives of others who are not even within their groups.
Consider a leader such as Martin Luther King, a man who was able to mobilize and lead millions of African-Americans in the cause of civil rights in America. With each victory, lives of those he lead improved, and those improvements have had long-term positive consequences for those who were not and are not today a part of any civil rights movement.
We wonder how leaders, such as King, Henry Ford, John Kennedy, Bill Gates, and others came to be leaders. Obviously, they had dreams. They committed to those dreams and to bettering themselves and others in important ways, whether that was through education, hard work or, in most instances, a combination of the two. Somewhere along the line, they began to lead others, and those leadership skills developed.
Here are 6 lessons for beginners in leadership:
1. Most Leaders are Self-Taught
Most of the dynamic leaders we have today have not come from business schools where leadership theory is taught. They have developed their own brands of leadership through experience, drive, and commitment. They are inspired and they inspire others.
Vince Lombardi, probably the most inspirational football coach of all time, never went to business school and never took formal leadership training. Yet he led and inspired and was beloved. We can take a lot of lessons from the behaviors and words of these great leaders, past and present.
2. When the Players are on the Field…
Leadership always involves delegation. Part of being a leader, in fact, means that you have a team of subordinates and, together, you have to get stuff done. But how do you delegate tasks to your team members? You will have no idea how to do that unless you actually roll up your sleeves and work with them. You will have the chance to observe their strengths, their challenges and shortcomings. The next project you get, delegate those tasks, and then spend time with each individual asking questions and watching. Here is what will happen:
- You will know whether delegation in the future should be modified, based upon what you have learned about your team members
- You will get more honest responses when you ask about tools and resources that will make their jobs easier and enable them to be more productive
- You will get to know each team member at a more personal level
- You will have gained respect and loyalty
This skill is not hard to learn. It requires your time. Be on the field with your players – it does not diminish your “authority.” It makes you a trusted leader.
3. Teach and Learn
As a supervisor, manager, or project leader, you know what needs to be done and you have a pretty clear idea of how to get there. It is now up to you to teach your team. If you can do this yourself and you have the skills that good teachers have, that is ideal. In some instances, however, you need outside expertise to train team members. This does not diminish your position. In fact, it models for your subordinates that you, too, still have things to learn.
As to that learning part. Not only can you learn from outside expertise. There is much to learn from your team members too. That learning comes from establishing a trusting relationship with your team, asking the right questions, and being a good listener.
Everyone has good ideas and solutions to present. Be certain that your team members feel comfortable presenting them, as well as issues and problems that come up. This comfort usually comes from regular informal meetings, one-on-one conversations, and social activities. When you do hold meetings, ask questions and then close your mouth and open your ears. Mastering this art of listening will take you far in your leadership. And more important, you will make work life much better for your subordinates. Here is why being generous can also progress you in your path to leadership.
4. Becoming a Servant
Servant leadership is a relatively new concept now taught in business schools, even though it was first presented in the 1970’s. It has evolved as a type of leadership because of the way the workplace has evolved. We now understand that productivity, morale, loyalty, and other traits we desire in employees is built by trusting collaborative relationships and by leaders who see themselves as servants of their teams, not just authorities.
If you do not understand the concept, then find an activity outside of work in which you can be of service to others. This will be an amazing experience, and you will develop the attitude that being of service makes lives better for others and can be transferred to your workplace.
In that workplace, you can adopt this “helping” attitude with very small things that add up. If long hours have to happen, you are there with sleeves rolled up and working hard too. You are helping your team members, ordering the takeout, crunching numbers with others, fixing the jam in the copy machine, and so on. During normal work hours, be mindful that your team needs support and help and be ready to provide it whenever it is needed.
5. “All the World’s a Stage”
This is a universal truth. We are all actors at many points in our lives. We have to put smiles on our faces when we feel terrible; we have to pretend to feel good when we don’t; we have to be polite when we don’t want to be. Leaders have to learn to be actors at times too. In the middle of crises and stress, it is the leader who must remain optimistic and enthusiastic – a cheerleader when all is going wrong. This is hard, but it is a skill that can be learned with practice.
6. Embrace those mistakes
We all make them. When we do, we try to “fix” the mistake and hope that if others have been affected, they will forgive us. Ultimately, we move on and learn from those mistakes. Your team members will make mistakes. If you have been a good leader, they will feel bad about those mistakes, maybe even carry some guilt around. It is your job to forgive. Yes, mistakes have to be addressed and discussed; yes, they must be corrected if possible. But give that person what you would want yourself – forgiveness. Do not dwell; do not remind; and do not criticize publicly. Real leaders learn to do this, and they have better teams as a result.
Leadership skills really can be acquired, especially today. We have evolved from a culture in which leadership used to mean, “I give the order; you follow the order,” to the give and take of collaboration, trust, honesty, service, and relationships. This type of leadership is not learned in a textbook. It is acquired by a genuine desire to improve the lives of others.
Leadership is really modeling for your team the behaviors you want from them. People can argue all day about the key elements of leadership and which is more important. In the end every situation is different, but this skill of modeling is always there. Here is another useful article on the topic of leadership.
Photo credit: Akio Takemoto via flickr