This is the final topic in my series on managing as a leader. While it might seem odd to discuss leadership in this series, there are some basic leadership principals all managers must possess. Successful manager lead even if they lack direct reports. Possessing leadership skills ensures your ability to influence others to accomplish what needs to be done. An example of someone without direct reports is a project manager. You lead teams that may be working on other projects. None may report to directly to you. Project managers still influence team leaders to complete projects appropriately.
With all that said, regular readers know this post could never cover all the details of leading. Scores of books, articles, and classes are done every year on leadership. I have been a leader for a long time and I still read books, articles, take classes, and practice.
At my first leadership class in the Army, I learned the three legs of the leadership stool are Be, Know, Do. Decades later, Be, Know, Do remain the core of Army leadership doctrine. These three principles apply whether you are an Army leader, CEO of General Motors, or president of the local Lions Club.
The foundation of leadership is character. It is the Be in Be, Know, Do. The cornerstone of that foundation is trust. Every action you take determines your character. If you are always late to meetings you become known as a tardy person. If you yell at others anytime you are stressed, others think of you as an angry person. If you effectively use resources to achieve quality results, people judge you as reliable.
Trust is the cornerstone of character because every other character trait rests on trust. Using the examples above, setting a meeting time means that you trust others to show up at that time and place. In order to avoid stress and become angry, you trust others to complete tasks as promised. When you trust others to use resources effectively they do. Every other character trait relies on trust.
Aligning your actions with your professed values creates a state of virtue. That becomes your character. When you say one thing and continually do something else, others view you as untrustworthy and a hypocrite. The hard part for everyone in this daily struggle is living up to the values you profess requires examination and reflection of your actions. People justify when their actions run contrary to their values. Find someone you trust to hold your mirror as you reflect on your actions. That second person provides perspective to your reflective observations.
My friend Gerry Berry used to say you could tell what was important to someone not by what he said, rather by what he did. He used that line with me every time I feed him an excused to not work out or go fishing with him. Gerry is gone now, so working out with him and joining him on the lake are no longer possible. When acting, recognize what really is important. Gerry held my mirror for many years which helped me see how my actions were often contrary to my values.
Some people say leaders are born and not made. I disagree. Leadership is like any other activity. Some people are born with natural talents. Talented people who work hard improve their skills becoming excellent. Others with less talent but a great desire to learn coupled with discipline outperform those talented people who choose not to improve their natural talent.
Think about someone you knew in high school who had a natural athletic ability but only played JV and the person who had less talent but always made varsity. The difference was work. It is the same with leadership. Some people are born with a natural charisma, yet they cannot lead a group in the Pledge of Allegiance. Others never have many friends yet lead important organizations. People choose to follow that person because the leader knows how to use power to ethically influence others by providing purpose, direction, and motivation. Together they can accomplish great things and make organizations better. Those unnatural leaders learn the process through education and practice.
Good leaders understand the process of leadership. It starts with a clear idea of what needs to be done and why it is important. That is the purpose. They clearly, continually, and consistently communicate that message to group members. They motivate. They assign each team member a role explaining why what they do is important to the greater good. That is direction. Leaders focus on building their followers skills and abilities in order to provide the best product of service possible with the available resources. As a result, the organization becomes better as they strive to accomplish their mission.
Leadership is a process. People can learn processes. Teaching people the leadership process provides the opportunity for them to adapt behaviors and become better leaders. Leaders use processes and people to produce results. Leaders DO things like teach, inspire, motivate, and learn.
To become a good leader, one has to have some knowledge and desire to learn. Leaders need to know about people, what motivates them, how they work together, understand how personality affects their perspective, and how to use the strengths of each individual well. Leaders know something of the work to be done or how to hire knowledgeable people to supervise the work. Leaders learn about the people they lead. Leaders combine prior knowledge and current learning to create new ideas and better ways of accomplishing things. Leaders learn about their strengths and weaknesses, biases, and habits. That learning allows leaders to grow and create change in themselves and others. Leaders never stop learning.
The process of leadership requires people to possess character; creating action through the efforts of others; to learn and know about the job, leading, and people. Character is developed every day with every action you take. You become known by your actions, not your words. Ensure what you say is what you do. Learn more about your job, people, and leadership. Learning helps you think better because you have more information to create effective solutions to problems. Develop and work processes that inspire others to achieve. Motivate them to create the world envisioned in your organization’s mission statement. Your actions improve your organization and create a better world by influencing others to make a difference. Manage your leadership actions using the three legs of the leadership stool. Become a leader others choose to follow; BE, KNOW, DO.
Little Leadership Lessons provides ideas and insights to become a better person and by extension, a better leader. You may notice at the top of each page there is a link to a training page. Little Leadership Lessons is published by Saint Cyr Training. We provide virtual, in-house, and off-site training opportunities for progressive organizations that understand the need for high-quality, well-rained leaders. Click here if you want to learn more.
- Kinicki, A. & Williams, B. (2008). Management: A practical introduction (3d Ed.). McGraw-Hill Irwin. New York, NY
- Sinek, W. (2014) Leaders eat last: Why some teams pull together and others don’t. Portfolio/Penguin. New York, NY
- Wickham, J. (1983). Military Leadership: FM 22-100. U.S. Army Adjutant General Publications Center. Baltimore, MD.
- Willink, J. & Babin, L. (2015). Extreme ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS lead and win. St. Martin’s Press. New York, NY