LEAD WHERE YOU ARE
In a 2010 TED Talk presentation, leadership coach Drew Dudley argued that “as long as we keep making leadership something bigger than us, we are giving ourselves an excuse to not expect it from ourselves.” In other words, as long as we keep placing leadership on a pedestal and viewing it as something largely unobtainable by the masses, we are giving ourselves permission to not lead where we are. Sadly, many individuals possess this view on leadership, primarily because they equate leadership with a job or business role. If they are not the boss, then they must not be a leader. This overlooks several major aspects of what true leadership is, including:
- Leadership is about Influence.
Sociologists have found that even the most shy individuals will influence over 10,000 people in their lifetime. Every day interactions, even ones which we may not personally remember (as in the example from Dudley’s presentation), can significantly alter the direction of the lives of others. Mother Teresa was never a Fortune 500 CEO, but no one would doubt that her impact on others is nearly unmatched in modern times. She was an influencer, which means that she was a leader.
- Leadership is about Character.
As General Normal Schwarzkopf once stated, “Leadership is a potent combination of character and strategy. But if you must be without one, be without strategy.”
Similarly, leadership expert John Maxwell argues that “the development of character is at the heart of our development as leaders.” You must be able to lead yourself before you can lead others, and this requires character. Then, the higher you climb, the more you must continue to grow in both maturity and character. When individuals are placed into positions of authority when their character is not mature enough to understand the responsibility that follows, the entire organization suffers.
- Leadership is about Serving and Sacrifice.
True leadership is about serving others. Successful leaders understand the value of every member of the team and works to raise them all up. This requires time, energy, and a willingness to invest yourself into the growth of others. Leaders are the first in and the last out, and go above what is required in order to better the group. If you feel that you aren’t in a position or have an interest to serve where you are, perhaps you merely haven’t found your purpose yet, and you need to spend time reflecting on the subject. When you are serving where your heart wants to be, you will never view your sacrifice as a burden.
- Leadership is about Responsibility and Accountability.
No matter your position, you are always both responsible and accountable to others. The higher you climb, the more true this becomes. Managers are responsible and accountable to their teams, business owners to their shareholders, and elected officials to their constituents. When things go wrong, it is your responsibility to own it and fix it.
- Leadership is about Succession.
There is no “I” in “team”, and success does not happen in a vacuum. It is your responsibility to train your team, gearing each person to tasks best suited to their strengths (while delegating your own weaknesses). Always remember that there will come a day when your team, for one reason or another, will no longer have you. True success is measured by succession, and if the team has not been trained to function and thrive in your absence, then you have failed them.
In closing, we are all leaders in one place or another, regardless of job title or team size. This means that we all have a responsibility to grow as leaders in order to further those whom we influence. Below are three books which I have found invaluable in my own personal leadership growth, but don’t stop there. Read as many books as you can, and also seek out mentors in your own industries who are willing to help you grow in those fields. Remember: you will influence at least 10,000 people in your life (and likely far more if you are reading this article). What type of influence do you want to have upon them?
Jeremiah Clark, M.A., is a healthcare IT consultant with six Epic Systems certifications.
He is also the co-owner of Appalachian Digital, a website development agency.
You can contact Jeremiah at JeremiahSethClark@Outlook.com
or connect with him on LinkedIn at Jeremiah Clark.