Sunday, June 7, 2009

Lead the Way!


How do you become a leader? Is it the fancy office and the title? No, having an office and a title no more makes you a leader as standing in the garage calling yourself a Chevrolet makes you a car. Best you get with that is "Manager". Many organizations confuse those two terms and definitely confuse the concept. Then what is being a leader?

Simply put a leader is someone that people choose to follow. Why do organizations continue to try and give people a title and expect them to be leaders? Because that's the way it's always been done! Ugh!

Mr Toastmaster, fellow toastmasters and guests.

What, then, makes a good leader?

Leaders face the same problems everyone else faces; but rather than get paralyzed by their problems, leaders immediately commit themselves to finding a solution. Leaders know where they want to go. They may not know how to get there, put they have a vision and they share that vision. They find other people that believe in that vision and can help them achieve it.

My son is a boy scout. We talked the other night about his new Senior Patrol Leader. (Another boy in the troop that is voted on by the other boys to be in charge of the troop.) I asked my son what he thought about his new leader and, based on how he led, what is the leader's job? He said it was to tell people what to do. While there are plenty of "leaders" that behave that way, a good leader doesn't have to tell people what to do. He inspires them to take the initiative and do what needs to be done to achieve the vision.

The job of leaders is not to create more followers, it is to create more leaders. True leaders aren't afraid to hire people that are better than they are. In fact, the best leaders aren't the people that were best in their field. Only in business do we promote the best performer to the role of leadership. The best sales person to the head of sales, the best accountant to the head of accounting, the best trainer to the head of the training department. The person that should be promoted in every case is the person that is the best at leading.

Being a leader doesn't mean you have all the answers.

If you don't know the game, don't know the rulebook, don't even know the field you're on, then in the immortal words of my father, "Don't just stand there, do something."

I know, it's cliché. But what it means is that when you have no idea what's going on, stop thinking, it won't do you any good. Try something and see what happens.

You can never be satisfied with the way things are. In fact, you should be downright mad about it.

Leaders are angry! Completely dissatisfied with the status quo and want to do something about it RIGHT NOW!

Never promote unangry people to positions of leadership. In fact, the ideal job candidate is the person that walks in, looks you in the eye and says, "I can't believe how screwed up this place is. But I'm willing to take a chance as long as I think I have a good chance at changing it."

How do you change it?

Leaders know it's all sales all the time. Don't think so, ask George W. Bush. Ask Barak Obama. Ask the project manager of the 6 person project team that completely overhauled your company's collaboration systems.

If you don't like sales, find a different job. Leadership isn't for you.

Good leaders have to make decisions.

A CIA Director once commented that if a terrorist walked into his office and tossed a grenade in, every person in there would jump on that grenade and sacrifice themselves for their fellow agents. If someone ran in and shouted, "I need a decision and I need it right now. If it's wrong it could mean the end of your career, but right or wrong, I need a decision now!" Everyone would be running for the door.

As Theodore Roosevelt said, "In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing."

Good leaders want to do stuff that matters. What are people going to say about you when you've gone? Leaders care about that legacy.

Good leaders are open and dedicated to lifelong learning. They seek to continually improve their organizations and themselves. They ask "why?" They ask it about everything. Even the most trivial aspects. Why? Why do we have this process or that procedure? "Hey, because that's the way it's always been done." -- And I think you all know what I think about that.

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