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So, You Think You Are a Leader?

“Those who think they lead and have no one who follow are merely taking a walk.” – John Maxwell

This leadership proverb has shaped the way I have viewed leadership since the first time I read it almost four years ago.

It defines my daily actions, communications, decision-making and most importantly, how I observe the leaders and teams I am so humbled to coach and work alongside. I have learned the hard way that the true measure of leadership is influence, nothing more and nothing less.

So, You Think You Are a Leader?

Think about those who have influence over you. Why do you follow them? It is most likely not because of power or position. It is because of how they make you feel – their character, their ability to build relationships, communicate, and provide a clear vision.

Position is NOT Power

True power is the influence and ability to motivate others to believe in and support your vision. I remember how my first 90 days as a school principal completely went against this leadership law. I started right after the Christmas break, was not interviewed by the staff, and I really did not know any of the fifteen teachers except for one. The advice I had been given was to not go in and change things, but rather, simply observe and assess. Like a good follower to my mentor, that is what I did. This strategy nearly broke me. The one piece of advice that I truly needed to hear was to make sure I dedicated the time needed to build relationships with those who had influence and power within the school. My faulty assumption was that, amongst colleagues, we automatically share the same work ethic and goals and therefore, we are all on the same side. However, I soon learned that I did not value what my staff valued. I was naive and came across as a corporate outsider, not a member of the team. Especially since I was hired after a conversation and a handshake and I really was not that good, so I can’t blame them.

Because I did not  understand how to build these key relationships, I lost 40% of my staff at the end of year one and was at 80% by year two. We lost valuable content teachers because I could not manage to build a solid ground for them to follow me.  I was taking a very lonely walk.

Reflect on These Questions

Within your organization, who is someone who does not formally have a title but is recognized as a leader? Does this person have positive influence or negative influence? Do they follow you?

Think about those who have the most influence over you. What is it about them that draws you to follow them? Write these characteristics down. Now, evaluate your own skill level in those areas. Do you see a gap?

The Errors Leaders Make

John Maxwell identifies five myths to leadership in his book 21 Laws of Irrefutable Leadership that leaders commonly believe. See which ones you have thought as true.

  1. Positional Myth: People think because they have a title or letters after their name, they are a leader. I see this in many schools that we work with when suddenly, a good teacher in the school is named the instructional coach. It can be a devastating decision to both the school leader and the newly appointed coach.
  2. Knowledge Myth: Just because someone has knowledge does not mean they know how to lead. Many of the smartest individuals I know have the worst communication and relationship-building skills. Think about it – if knowledge equated leadership, you would have loved every single one of your college professors.
  3. Management Myth: Managers do not make very good leaders. In order to lead well, you need to be an effective manager. Managers focus on systems and leaders focus on people. Managers use tactics to motivate; leaders inspire people. Which one are you?
  4. Pioneer Myth: Being first does not always make you an effective leader. Napster, MySpace, two-way pagers. What did these companies fail to do in order to sustain their initial success like their successors?
  5. Entrepreneur Myth: This might be the hardest for you to understand, but let me tell you, if you founded a charter school, you are an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are difficult to lead. They do not like having a boss; they prefer to work alone ; and do not always know how to make strong teams. Sound familiar? I am one and I fight this myth every day!

How do you improve your ability to influence others?

First, you need to make time once a month to have intentional time, use lunch time, with at least your identified top 20% team members. These are the individuals who are humble, hungry and smart with a huge learning capacity. Secondly, try to meet with everyone in the organization at least twice a year. Ask them about their goals and aspirations in the organization. Where do they see themselves in five years time? Thirdly, make a concerted effort each day to add value to one member of your team. Create opportunities to allow them to reach their goals within your organization. If you do not do this, they will find a place to accomplish these dreams elsewhere.

Growth Exercise: Here are seven characteristics of an effective person of influence. Rate yourself on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high) for each. Create a plan to develop those characteristics which you rated under seven.

  • Character – Who you are.
  • Relationships – Who you know.
  • Knowledge – What you know.
  • Intuition – What you feel.
  • Experience – Where you have been.
  • Past Success – What you have done.
  • Ability – What can you do.

This blog was written by Dr. Thomas Miller, transformational coach and strategic thinking partner for Leaders Building Leaders. To schedule a complimentary discovery call with Tom click this link.Your discovery call will consist of questions like:

  • What challenges are you or the organization currently facing?
  • What keeps you up at night worrying?
  • What challenges and obstacles do they foresee over the next 6-12 months that may test the team’s weak points? What is it that they personal struggle at in meeting this challenge?
  • What would their organization look/feel like operating at its optimum level?
  • What does personal success look like to you?

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