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Thursday, August 11, 2011

No To-Do List For Leadership - 5 Ways to BE a Great Leader

I guess as humans, life is a lot easier if we are given a list of what to do, as opposed to being given instruction on how to be. Consider religion. Many world religions or denominations base their faith on to-do lists. Pilgrimages, rituals, touching statues, prostrating, repetitive prayer and giving money are a lot easier to absorb and follow than a command to "love your neighbour as yourself." How are we supposed to do that exactly? Isn't it much easier if we can just be told what we need to do?

Similarly, relationships would be a lot easier if you have a to-do list. Consider the husband whose wife is unhappy with him and doesn't know why. In trying to find out why she is unhappy, perhaps he gets the response, "well, if you don't know then I'm not going to tell you." Truth is, whatever he has done or not done, she is probably not feeling loved or important to him. Maybe if he had a list of do's and don'ts, life would be easier. Unfortunately, a bunch of insincere physical acts do not add up to one sincere expression of love, care and something that shows that she is important to him.

When it comes to raising kids, when they are younger you can pull off the appearance of love and affection by spoiling them with money and gifts - but that soon becomes empty and it doesn't take long before they recognize their place in your priorities and what you consider important. In relationships, our loved ones need to feel love, to be loved - sure, part of showing love is doing things that need to be done - but that does not replace the intimate connection that is so important between partners or between parents and their children.

In business, there is a flourishing industry selling to-do lists for leadership, management and greatness. The internet is swamped with blogs and lists of "5 things to do..." or "7 ways to..." or "4 things great people do..." We all want the recipe for greatness and success. The bad news is that authentic leadership and the internal traits of leaders can't be followed on a to-do list. The good news is that we can all learn to understand ourselves, embrace our strengths and recognize our weaknesses. We can also learn to truly respect and appreciate the strengths of others, and the fact they are better than us at some things. Leadership is more BEING (who you are) as opposed to DOING (what you do), and we can all learn to BE leaders. There is no TO-DO LIST for great leadership, but there is a TO-BE LIST!

BE SELF AWARE. It all starts with you. Great leaders know themselves intimately and are as comfortable with their weaknesses and shortcomings as they are with their strengths and natural talents. Great leaders continually seek self improvement and work at overcoming weaknesses that are holding them back or affecting their ability to lead others.

BE SELF CONFIDENT. Because great leaders understand their own shortcomings and are confident in their strengths, they fully accept that others are stronger and better than them in some aspects of life or work. Because they are confident in their own contribution, they are not threatened or insecure when outperformed by others. Great leaders know how to leverage the best of others to create synergy and empower everyone around them.

BE INFLUENTIAL. Leaders who influence others through attraction and persuasion seek a win-win outcome. The opposite of this is a command and control leadership where others are managed through coercion and the threat of punishment. In organizations, employees are permanently under unspoken threat, ranging from poor performance appraisals to termination. Managers who use these threats to get things done will find they have employees, not followers. This is not leadership. Employees need to feel safe and empowered to bring their full contribution to work, even if this means respectfully disagreeing with their manager. Self aware, confident and influential leaders will value this and use the employee's opinions to strengthen the team's decision making ability.

BE EMPATHETIC. Empathetic leaders have the ability to put themselves in others' shoes and see things from the perspective of others. An empathetic leader recognizes and accepts the plight, opinion or approach of others, and adapts to accommodate and help to the best of their ability. Listening is key to understanding and developing empathy.

BE HUMBLE. Regardless of position and power, great leaders don't regard themselves as superior to others. These leaders are humble and practice servant leadership. Leading is an honour bestowed on the leader by the followers - they have chosen to follow, which means they trust the leader to take care of them and to have their best interest at heart. Humble doesn't mean weak, mild or meek - humble simply means recognizing the privilege and responsibility, that it is a gift and that the leader's role is to serve as much as it is to lead.

Again, the great news is that everyone can learn to be these things. It takes time, practice and an investment in learning to understand yourself and others - but the reward is phenomenal. There is no better compliment than being regarded a great leader by those who are discerning about who they follow. Finally, there is one last point great leaders always have to remember: Leadership is not about how you feel, but how you make others feel.

Great managers know what they need from others. Great leaders know what others need from them.

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Russell Cullingworth, MBA
President, Centre of Excellence for Young Adults
Twitter: GenYExcellence; SportExcellence
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The Centre of Excellence for Youngn Adults offers soft skills training for young adults ages 18-35. Research shows that you can increase Emotional Intelligence through training. Our goal is to help young adults to be successful in life and career.

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