It is a bit daunting to write an article with the title I just typed. It reminds me of those questions you get asked during ice breaker exercises or at dinner parties . . . “If you could take only five books to a desert island what would they be?”
I’m not very good at those kinds of questions. The longer I think about them, the more answers I have.
Presuming to list the “leadership principles that matter most” is a bit like that. It is possible someday I would change this short list, and it is entirely possible that you will want to change the list as soon as you finish reading it. While I could, like the book list, make it much longer, that defeats my purpose in writing it.
So why am I writing it?
Because these principles need to be highlighted for us and re-ignited in our work every day.
I need to be reminded and so do you.
The principles that follow are foundational beliefs that, when applied through action, will bring greater results for your teams/organizations and greater satisfaction for you. Each of them point to a wide variety of skills that we can hone and improve, but they themselves aren’t skills.
Leadership isn’t about us – it’s about our team. Someone asked me once how my writing connected with the concept of Servant leadership. I told them it was completely connected, even though I seldom use that phrase. The concept of servant leadership is that as a leader we are to serve those we lead. It really can’t be any other way. This doesn’t mean we simply do what will make people happy or like us – when we truly understand that the leader’s work isn’t about ourselves, we use that perspective to serve the best interests of those we lead over the long term.
- The best thing you can do for your team is believe in their potential. Without question the best thing we can do for others is to believe in them and their potential. If we don’t see it, we won’t give them our best. Help your team members see themselves as winners – not to make them cocky or over-confident, but so they have the quiet confidence and motivation to become their best selves.
Leadership isn’t about us – it’s about the goal. Leaders exist to move people towards a desired future outcome. We can call it a goal, a mission, a vision or a target – whatever words you use – our job is to take people, teams and results to a place they weren’t before. Whether you want to answer phones faster, make things cheaper, reduce costs or create brand new things, leaders are in the business of improvement and growth. Let me say it again, the best leaders know it isn’t about them (or who gets the credit), it is about the goal.
- The status quo requires no leadership. Inherent, but unstated in the principle above is that if things were perfect, we wouldn’t need leaders. If we are in the business of improvement and growth, then as leaders we are in the change business, and a large part of our time should be about creating the change that is needed/desired.
Leadership is earned through action. Leadership occurs because of things you do, not because of a position you hold. You may have heard, or read that leadership isn’t granted, it is earned – and that is completely true. You are only leading if people are choosing to follow you. Here is a question to challenge your behavior related to this principle: If you were arrested for being a leader, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
- Your job title doesn’t really matter. We all know people with the title that aren’t leading, and we all know people who don’t have, nor do they want, the position, yet they are leading all the time. When leaders have the title, they recognize what the title is, and then go about the real work of leading.
Leadership isn’t an individual activity – you can’t do it alone. And yet, leaders act as if they can all the time. They micro-manage. They keep work for themselves. They don’t delegate effectively. They take the credit for the work, effort and ideas of others. You are leading others, so you must engage them – not only can’t you do it alone, but why would you want to? You have a team – engage them!
- You aren’t in control – leadership is a game of influence. You can’t make your team members do, think, or say anything, they choose. You have control over your thoughts, behaviors, emotions and choices – everything else (which is most everything!) is a matter of influence. You aren’t going it alone, but with others. And others aren’t in your control. The best leaders remember this and act from a place of influence.
I urge you to read these again and reflect on how much you believe them and how often (and successfully) you are applying those beliefs. Doing this introspection could be the most valuable work you ever do as a leader.