Every single person can be a leader.
Leader is not a title that is bestowed but a role that is lived.
Leader does not mean boss.
One can be a leader with zero minions or reporting staff.
People are assigned to bosses.
They follow leaders.
The six traits of leaders.
Everyone can learn and build the traits of a leader if they wish to and are disciplined about it. Becoming a leader does not entail anyone else allowing it, awarding it or being able to take it away.
The six traits are 1) Competence 2) Time Management 3) Integrity 4) Empathy 5) Vulnerability and 6) Inspiration
They are all internally driven and with discipline and time can be honed and sculpted.
So, if you want to be a leader you can.
Right now. Right away.
To be a leader in any field, at any level, you need to build proficiency.
You need to learn your craft, hone your skills, continuously improve, and remain relevant and up to date.
Too many “leaders” slip into irrelevance by letting their skills atrophy. Today due to the rapid change in demography and technology the half-life of whatever one has learned rapidly decays and the fuel tank of competence needs to be continuously filled. Organizations fail to keep up when their people fail to keep updated and re-orient themselves as the compass of the future calls for a new navigation path.
We are all blessed with the ability to learn both independently using the world of resources online but also most organizations are now investing in training and skill upgrading. In addition to these avenues one can build skills by volunteering for new assignments or switching jobs.
The day we stop learning our leadership capabilities stop growing and may begin to die.
The three “time” skills that one needs to build to become a leader are that of a) bi-focal focus, b) delegation/teamwork and c) zero based time budgeting.
Leaders learn to have bi-focal focus by recognizing the difference between the urgent (which often must be done to live another day) and the important (what needs to be done to ensure long term success). They put time on their calendars every week to ensure that there is time to focus on the strategically important or they will be lost forever in a swirl of tactical urgency. Take time every week to think of where you want to be or your company to be six or twelve or twenty-four months in the future and what you may need to get there.
To be a leader requires one to work with teams so one can focus on what one does best, leverage and learn from others who do things best and where one can delegate tasks that you have already mastered or which someone can do much better than you. Being “irreplaceable” or “nobody can do this as good as me” ensures that you will not grow and people around you will not grow.
We all have financial budgets, and we have time budgets. When you say yes to a new request ask yourself or the person who has given it to you what you can stop doing. Or one ends up doing a lot of things in a half-baked way and corners get cut which can cost the firm and you in time and trouble. This is a formula for poor results, burn out and a flushed and flustered demeanor which is not the look of a leader.
Trust is speed.
Trusted people rarely have the need to pull out multi-paged power point decks to convince their teammates, bosses, and clients about what they are recommending.
If one is not trusted it is hard to be a leader.
Trust can be earned by placing a primacy on facts, being clear about one’s intentions and transparent about how one is making decisions.
To be trusted one must face reality and deal with facts. Facts are stubborn things. Reality has a habit of breaking. Truth matters. If one does not begin with these fundamentals, it is very hard for people to believe you. You may be able to mislead them for a time but once found out you may never recover. Looking reality in its face is what a leader does versus imaginative mind gaming and selling of hallucinatory fantasies. Sooner or later people wake up.
Be clear about your intentions. What are you trying to do and what do you hope to gain? This allows everyone to understand your goals and they may have better ideas of achieving them and neither you or they waste time in trying to figure out what you are up to or why they are being recruited to a cause.
Often decisions are made that people do not agree with. But they are much easier to accept if they are built on a foundation of facts, a clarity of intentions and a transparency on the thought process that led to the decision. There is no confusion about a “black box” or some demonic plan.
Everyone can be known for integrity by beginning with facts, stating intention and being transparent about their process.
In time this builds trust.
Leaders bring about change and achieve goals by bringing other people along with them.
To do so it is key to understand where people are coming from. What their fears, concerns, challenges as well as hopes, desires and dreams are.
A simple way is to ask four questions.
a) What is on your mind?
b) What else?
c) If you were not doing this, what would you be doing or how could things be better?
d) How can I help?
These questions allow both facts and emotions to emerge and a real conversation to ensue which is key to empathy.
After all being a leader is as much about other people as it is about you.
Vulnerability is strength and not a weakness.
By speaking about things, one worries about, one reveals humanity and comes off as believable.
It makes other people step up to try to help and offset your concerns or lack of competence with their or other people’s complimentary skills.
But as importantly it gives people the room to also speak up and point out other weaknesses that may exist not just with you but on projects that you are working on.
Leadership is not being the all-knowing, all-seeing, always-right demi-god but a human with good intentions, discipline and focus trying to figure out the best way forward. Does anyone truly believe the bombastic, bullying, blow hard? We may fear them, but do we follow them? No way Jose!
As Blaise Pascal wrote “We choose with our hearts, and we use numbers to justify what we did”.
After the facts and the data, after the PowerPoints and the spreadsheets we often remain unconvinced, dis-believing, and hesitant.
Yes, we are living in a data driven, silicon based, computing world but all of us are story driven, carbon based, feeling individuals!
Joan Didion wrote “we tell ourselves stories in order to live” and thus storytelling and examples bring a vivid reality to get people to rise to another level.
Learn to communicate through words, stories, art, and example.
It will take you and everyone else to another level.
Watercolors by Thomas Schaller
Rishad Tobaccowala (@rishad) is the author of the bestselling “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data” published by HarperCollins globally in January 2020. It has been described as an “operating manual” for managing people, teams and careers in the age we live in and The Economist Magazine called it perhaps the best recent book on Stakeholder Capitalism. Business and Strategy named it among the best business books of the year and the best book on Marketing in 2020. Rishad is also a speaker, teacher and advisor who helps people think, feel and see differently about how to grow their companies, their teams and themselves. More at https://rishadtobaccowala.com/
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