Sunday, March 21, 2010

People want to be led

Leadership is a fickle friend. As much as I sincerely believe that this valuable skill is a learned one, I also feel that it can be tempting to quickly forget about developing one’s leadership ability. I mean why not let somebody else take the bullets and leave me in peace right? Sadly that seems to be more and more the operating philosophy of modern times . As more problems prove tougher to solve, fewer people are willing to embrace active leadership in favor of passively being led.

Like speechmaking, in leadership, practice makes perfect. Sounds simple enough but let’s face it both tasks can be scary. Throw yourself in front of a conference room or classroom full of eyeballs, or worse yet, eyeballs attached to brains judging your every move and thought – then WHEW! … makes me sweat just writing about it! Further, leaders are typically on the front line of new policy and uncomfortable change which can affect established political power paradigms and personal relationships. With all that at stake, it is easy to understand why most folks prefer to be led than be a leader themselves.

In most facets of life I contend this is a mistake. Whenever an opportunity presents itself, you can only become a better leader by doing. Often times in life, this means taking a chance and pushing the envelope of your job description even if you are a volunteer. New leaders need to take charge of someone else’s generally accepted responsibilities before being entrusted with their own. Most overseers do not welcome such intrusions and perceived power grabs by unproven underlings, so that is where the practice comes in.

Instead of attempting an outright confrontational coup, it is imperative to make your target of opportunity receive your gestures with open arms. Oh yeah right, my boss is going to simply hand over the reigns of power? No, not yet, but who knows if you play your cards right it can and may happen down the road? Generally in new organizations that I want to ultimately influence, I ask for or ‘assume’ responsibility to lead the most detestable aspects of my supervisor’s job first. In most cases, as you hone your skills, your efforts will be received with relief and genuine appreciation instead of conflict. Nobody ‘likes’ firing people (except for the Donald) but if you KNOW you can do a better job than your boss, then take on tough chores like that one.

Your goal is to quickly become the reliable ‘go to’ person for leadership roles, no matter how small or how temporary. Practicing your skills reinforces your value to the company now and helps you become an actual BETTER leader in the future. The aforementioned ‘fired employee’ is not a theoretical example nor as cold and calculating as you may first believe. My specific goal was to fire the inadequate employee with more grace and dignity than my boss would have ever done. At the same time, I needed to know the good, bad, and ugly of the task because not only did the job have to be done, but I would need that leadership skill throughout my life.

If you keep taking on the lowly tasks of leadership first and build your way up to greater and greater responsibilities, you will soon find you are indispensable as a resource for your organization. Regardless of your desires for power or influence upon your firm’s direction, JOB SECURITY is reason alone to be an effective leader rather than a run-of-the-mill follower. By nature, most people may still take the easy way and follow. However, if you listen, learn, and accept responsibility quickly, very soon it will be you, your ideas, and leadership style that will be hard to forget.


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