What is a good leader? Perhaps it is best thought of as having the ability to inspire followers. You may initially obtain followers due to recognition or persuasion, and you may then exert a little influence to retain them, but ultimately they will have to trust you to stay with you. Can you learn how to be a good leader? Yes!
First, be authentic. Communicate clearly and often. People will respect you for this, and they will reply in kind. When you give your word, keep it and begin building a foundation of trust. Make meaningful relationships --- some day, they may be all you have!
Second, be the example you want to see in others. I often think about the words penned by my eldest son many years ago as punishment for throwing a temper tantrum on the ball field one evening (I asked him to write down what he thought it took to have a successful game):
“It takes having fun. It takes skill to do what your coach says. Don’t make unnecessary throws. If there’s a play you can’t make leave it to the other guy. If you can’t use the bat you’re given, get another bat. Try and do your best. Don’t get mad. Don’t hold the ball. Don’t throw your glove. When you steal home feel good about it. When you hit the ball feel good about it. When you screw up a play don’t be mad at the team or yourself. Feel good about yourself when you make an out. Don’t spoil the game for everybody. Never quit just because you get mad. When you make a home run feel good about it. If you have missed a play and the coach comes out, don’t [make excuses and] say you don’t want to play where you’re playing.”
Sometimes people follow you because of what you do, or what they think you will do. They want to be part of success, and may sense that you have attained it.
Third, embrace risk, because with it often comes great reward. Shortly after he turned twenty, my eldest son determined that it was both honorable and an exercise of peer leadership to enter the Marine Corps. After two promotions and several commendations during his first year, he volunteered to go to Iraq. Observing his journey, I have some new beliefs. Leadership is risk, and it is reward. Leadership can put you in seemingly untenable situations, but it can leave you the better for it. Leadership can cause you to question the very heart of your resolve, but in the end your convictions and perseverance about doing the right things for the right reasons will always prove the best course.
Fourth, help and respect others. Why is this important? I think helping others makes loyalty possible. Respecting others lies at the very heart of diversity. Discover the whole person and you will find common ground, mutual respect, and engender more trust. Discover the whole person and you will find other leaders, too, and you can then cultivate their success along with your own. As John Maxwell said, “The more people you develop, the greater the extent of your dreams.”
Fifth, exercise self-discipline. Take the time to download a free copy of the John Maxwell book Developing the Leader Within You. Maxwell counsels that the singular price tag of leadership is self-discipline. He says “discipline …is the choice of achieving what you really want by doing things you don’t really want to do. After successfully doing this for some time, discipline becomes the choice of achieving what you really want by doing things you now want to do!” I can attest that this is true. Once you commit to a life of leadership, it will define you and your results so quickly that you will never want to be anything less.
Sometimes we fear leadership. We don’t want to play. In fact, some of you have heard me say “if I can’t win, I don’t want to play”. I’d like to explain this philosophy. The difference between playing to win and playing for any other purpose (like not losing!) is the difference between success and mediocrity. Leading is playing to win. Always.
Within your leadership arena, set your standards high and exercise the discipline necessary to achieve your goals with authenticity, unflagging effort, and the resolve to collaborate with and respect others. This kind of discipline always results in good will, better decisions, and great leadership, the marks of a 21st century organization and the kind of leadership I intentionally strive to deliver. And, for those of you who are already established leaders, take your development one step further and qualify as a Global Board Ready Woman through TIAW. The world is starved for the balancing leadership skills of women. Won’t you step in?
Lisa Kaiser Hickey