Learned Leadership

Real leadership is a choice of action. Good leadership is the result of the right choice.

3 wrong assumptions leaders make
Photography by Heather Strahan.

I am the expert.

If you are the best problem-solver, the best producer, the best innovator, the best listener, the best motivator, the best vision-castor, the best goal setter, or the best anything else on your team, then your first decision as a leader should be to find a new team. What you have is not a team. You have a dictatorship. You can lead that kind of group easily, but you will never value them. You will always blame them for failure. They will always be obstacles to your success. It has never worked out. Well it works out sometimes…in a college classroom.

Decide that it is ok if you don’t have all of the answers or all of the skills for your team to succeed. Spend most of your energy finding out what your team members are good at, and free them up to do those things — better than you would do them. You have more innovative thinkers in certain areas on your team. Others on your team are wiser about certain things, better at doing certain things, and better at solving certain problems than you are. Don’t limit the potential of your team to your abilities. Your team can go farther with you than you can go trying to get them to follow.

Others want to be led.

Employees and team members do not want to be led. The ambitious want to impress, the friendly want to be liked, the timid don’t want to get in trouble, the bold want their ideas heard, the innovative want to change, and those who are the quietest in meetings are usually the loudest in the virtual break room. Leaders often identify authority-driven behavior as the result of great vision or leadership. However, team members often follow a leader, because it will cost them too much not to follow.

Assume that others want to lead — and can lead. Nothing breaths life into an individual more than giving them a chance to make a significant decision. The truth is that your team really doesn’t want to hear what you think. They want you to hear what they think. Become an encourager instead of a policy maker and enforcer. You have valuable experience and advice that can help others succeed accomplishing what they are passionate about. So become passionate about helping them to succeed.

People need to buy into my vision.

Vision is not hard to agree on. The hard part is getting a team to agree HOW to accomplish the vision. Leaders who chase after vision buy-in are usually still chasing it on their way to a new company or team. Do people really need to buy into your vision? If your team doesn’t already share the same vision BEFORE your cast your vision, they are on the wrong team — or you are. They don’t need to buy into your vision.

They need to know if you are passionate about the same things they are passionate about. They don’t need to know how you think their daily activities need to change. They need to know that you agree with them that there is a better way to get this thing done! Stop casting your vision and engage your team in conversation that helps you and them both agree that results can be better, that you all have great dreams for the future, that you both want the team to succeed. What does your team say about you? Do they say that you lead them or that you serve them? People vote for presidents who say things they want to hear. I guarantee every person on your team wants to hear, “I love what you are doing! What do you need from me? How can I help you?”

Leaders understand what others need and provide it.