Java with Joe: Lead from Where You Are…Make This Your Year

These days, many of our traditional ideas about leadership are changing. For example, if you think that the only people who really make a difference to an organization’s success are those at the top of the org chart, you might want to reconsider.

In today’s world, change…often technology driven…is constant and often (to use a cliché) disruptive. As a result, the pace of business has accelerated, and organizations have a pressing need for more timely decision making. In this environment, the traditional top down, bureaucratic, command and control model just doesn’t work as well as it once did. Which is why more and more organizations are coming to understand that decision making…and leadership in general…needs to be much more widely shared.

What this all means is that today’s business environment is loaded with opportunity for anyone willing to step up and lead!

Another idea about leadership that needs to change…one that’s related to the idea that organizations need to tap a much wider pool of leadership talent…is the idea that leaders need to be charismatic, larger than life people. That may have true at some point in the past, but today…not so much. As regular readers of this blog know, I believe strongly in Servant Leadership, which depends far less on personal charisma and personal glory than on a commitment to helping others succeed. Again, as regular readers will know, servant-led companies typically outperform their competitors on a wide array of critical metrics, which goes a long way toward explaining why Servant Leadership principles are being adopted by more and more organizations.

The point is that you don’t need a “big” persona to be an effective leader. And you don’t need a big title either. Not every leader has accepted this, of course, especially if they’ve got one of those high visibility positions in the org chart. And not every organization is ready to open the doors to a wider pool of leaders. But I think the tide is running against those people and those organizations. I think this is a great time for any one who aspires to help their organization succeed, anyone who truly wants to help the people around them succeed, to step up and be a leader.

If this is your year to take that step, what can you do to increase your chances of success? Here are a few ideas on that subject.

Embrace Who You Are.

Self- awareness and acceptance is absolutely critical to being an effective leader.  In my career, I’ve seen many people who are naturally introverted try to remake themselves into extroverts, in order to fit the model of the charismatic leader. This is a bad idea for a couple of reasons. First, as I’ve already said, there’s plenty of room in today’s world for a different kind of leader. And second, trying to make yourself into something you’re not almost never works. So, if you’re more of an introvert, embrace that fact. (You might want to check out Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference by Jennifer Kahnweiler.) Leverage the strengths you have, like active listening, thoughtfulness, and cultivating relationships. Be yourself…or rather, be your best self!

Build Relationships Right Away.

Don’t wait until you need people’s help to seek others out. Get involved now. Ask people how you can help them succeed. You’ll make a lot of friends that way, and these friends will be there when you need them for support. And if you have some relationships that could use a little repair work, find a way to make that happen, and do it now. I’ve learned never to underestimate the power of an apology!

Ask Questions and Listen to the Answers.

Many people ask questions without really being interested in the answer. For these folks, the question is just an opening gambit, a way to set themselves up to take charge of the discussion. I don’t know about you, but I find this kind of thing more than a little annoying. The fact is that asking a good question and then really listening to the answer is a great way to expand your own knowledge and build a truly collaborative relationship with your colleagues. Most importantly, it’s a great way to uncover the best possible solution to important problems…and doing that is what makes you an effective leader.

Add People to Your Team Who Will Challenge You.

Effective leaders are wary of being trapped in a bubble of their own making. It’s much easier and much more comfortable to surround yourself with people who see things your way. That may even make it easier to come to quick decisions…but it won’t necessarily lead to the best decisions. To get outside of the bubble and get the variety of perspectives necessary to effective decision making, you need a few people on your team who are willing and able to challenge you and push you. If you really want to increase your team’s creativity, you need to add some people who can play devil’s advocate.  If you don’t have those people on your team now, go find some…and in the meantime, reach out to some people outside of your team and ask them for feedback and suggestions about your ideas.

Take the Initiative.

As I’ve said in previous blogs, if you’re a leader at any level, you need to remember that you’re the CEO of your own organization, no matter how large or how small. What you do can make a difference not only to your own organization but to others. But that assumes that you take action, that you speak up, that you do what you can, when you can.

In that regard, I love this quote from Polly Labarre, founding member of Fast Company: “We have got to get past the bias in business that says big change only comes from big leaders. The most world changing innovation often starts very small.”

So…is this the year you step up and lead from where you are?

As you get ready to take that step, here are a few questions you might want to ask yourself:

How comfortable are you with your strengths and weaknesses? What should you work on?

What relationships do you need to build or rebuild? What steps might you take to get started?