Keys to Leadership

Keys to Leadership

I was blessed to be a part of an organization with a unique tradition of experiential leadership development. None of the military branches have the luxury of hiring a “CEO” at any level from an external source, so the leadership training starts early and happens frequently. As I young officer, I was exposed to formal training, informal and formal mentoring from my superior officers and the special “polishing” that can only come from the senior non-commissioned officers.

I learned what worked for me and I looked at each new assignment as an opportunity to reinvent myself as a leader by applying what I had learned with a new team.

I call those lessons, Keys to Leadership.

Lead Yourself First

Leading yourself well requires that you Discover yourself, Develop yourself, and then Do You!

Discover Yourself. Before you can become the leader you want to be, you have to know the leader you are. Take the time to reflect on your leadership.  What are your values? What are your strengths? What makes you feel elated? What makes you want to stick a pencil in your eye? How do you like to receive information? What do you need to know before you make a decision? Self-awareness is the first step to leading yourself so spend some time getting to know you.

Develop Yourself. A self-aware leader has a strategic advantage; however, knowledge is not enough. You have to do something with the information you gain to develop into the leader you want to be. Your focused development of your innate talents or your emotional intelligence requires a plan for study, practice and reflection. Determine the method of development that works best for you and get busy! Effective leaders never stop growing and view all experiences as learning opportunities.

Do You! Are you living your values? Are you operating in your strengths? Are you modeling the behaviors you expect from those you are privileged to lead? Are your actions yielding the reaction you expect?  Make the connection between who you say you are and your actions to lead more effectively and authentically.

“The great challenge of leadership is not understanding the practice, it is practicing our understanding.” ~ Marshall Goldsmith

Expand Your Vision

The most successful leaders are focused on a Big Vision that will impact the world.

Successful leaders tend to focus on something bigger and other than themselves. To paraphrase creator Ava DuVernay, “If your vision only includes you, it’s too small.” A leader’s vision can help attract the right people, and create excitement as that vision is executed. The agile leader

So make space in your vision so others can see themselves as a part of your vision. Then share it frequently! A very clear vision communicated using multiple mediums will ensure every team member understands why the organization exists and allow each team member to embrace their role in achieving the vision.

If you’re not communicating the vision, or if people can’t remember the vision, you may as well not have a vision.

Invest in Strengths

Find out what you’re really good at, and focus on that.

Many leaders believe they have to see the future, create the strategic plan, build the team, woo the stakeholders, execute the vision and make the coffee! Now maybe you do all those things really well …or maybe you do some of those things well and dread doing the things you don’t do well. You can only be really good at something you have an innate talent for so find out what leadership strengths come naturally to you and focus on developing those strengths until they turn into your super powers.  

While you’re at it, make sure your team has opportunities to add the skills, knowledge, and experience needed to develop their strengths. Helping your team find and use and their strengths individually and collectively might also help you identify those members who are strong where you are not.

Teams members who are operating in their areas of strength are more confident, energized and engaged… and that makes the team even stronger.

Take Care of People

Make sure those actually doing the bulk of the work have what they need.  

“Take care of the people and the people will take care of the mission” is an Air Force adage I learned as a young officer. Taking care of the people means providing the resources needed and the development opportunities required so people can excel at the task they have  committed to complete.  

But before you can know what they need, you have to know who they are. Taking care of the people also means building relationships with your team, individually and collectively. All the benefits of a team, all the diversity of thought, experience, and perspective is lost if team members cannot connect to you and each other.

When you show you care about each individual entrusted to your care, when you know what your team members are dealing with outside of work, when you focus on what only you can do so they can do their jobs, you compel loyalty and drive retention.  

Focus on Team Results

Leaders of successful teams are able to focus team members on the results they strive for as a team.

Leaders who have created an environment for team members to have real relationships based on trust, who encourage conflicting ideas, and who expect each member of the team to take ownership of the outcome, will lead their team to success. That’s because everyone is committed is to the vision and the team and they won’t be afraid to hold themselves and each other accountable along the way.  

You, as the leader, must set the tone for a focus on results. If your team members sense that you value anything other than the team results (like a personal bonus or promotion), they will take that as permission to do the same.

And when a team achieves its goal, individual recognition will come.

Bring the Energy

Energy is contagious; the leader can impact an organization with positive energy or infect it with negative energy.

One of the first leadership lessons I learned was the power of my energy to positively impact or negatively infect those around me. Humans are energetic beings, constantly influencing others with the energy we bring to whatever space we occupy, so that power is not unique to the leader yet it is heightened for the leader because often team members look to the leader for cues on how to engage and or react.

As the leader, it’s imperative that you understand and are intentional about projecting your positive energy onto the organization. Be consistent in taking the necessary actions that allow you to present as appropriately positive to those you are privileged to lead. Your energetic commitment to your organization can make all the difference in the behavior of your employees.

“The way to become a powerful leader is to understand the power of energy.” ~ Bruce Schneider

Discover your values, determine your purpose, and develop your capacity to lead effectively.