Monday, July 13, 2009

The Single Most Important Leadership Lesson Ever

When it comes to leadership, there are basically two kinds of people in the world. Those that study leadership and work constantly to improve their leadership skills, and those that think leadership is a given. For this second group of people, if you are the boss, you are the leader. It’s really that simple.

Of course, the truth is far different from that. As many eventually discover, being the boss has nothing to do with real leadership because the title of “boss” is given to you by someone higher in the organization, while the role of “leader” is bestowed on you by your followers. As John Maxwell says, “If you think you are a leader but no one is following, you are just out taking a walk.”

Those people who study leadership and spend a lot of time reading about leadership concepts and techniques, often focus on such things as Vision, Intelligence, Risk Taking, etc. And while these are certainly important concepts, they overlook the key quality of a leader that creates followers.

Take a few minutes now and think back to the one person in your life that you personally experienced and believed to be a great leader. It may have been a boss from one of your jobs, or maybe it was a scout leader from your youth, a minister from your church, or even a sports coach or teacher from high school. But my guess is that there is someone tha you looked up to and admired as a leader and who you would, if you could, model yourself after.

Visualize this person in your mind’s eye and immerse yourself in the thoughts you had when this person was such a huge influence in your life. Go as deep as possible in recreating the feelings and thoughts from that time period.

Now, get out a piece of paper and quickly write down the first 5 attributes that come to your mind about this person.

Let’s take a look at your list and mark each item on that list with the following codes:

1. If the attribute had something to do with their technical skills, knowledge of the subject matter or expertise, or quick decision making, mark those items with a “T”.

2. If the attribute has something to do with the “softer skills” of leadership (like the way you felt listened to or appreciated by this person, or maybe the way they inspired you with their vision and made you feel included), mark those items with an “E”.

3. If the item doesn’t fit into either of these two categories, mark them with an “O”.

If you are like 98% of the adult population of this country, at least 3 of the 5 items on your list are now labeled with an “E”. For many of you, all 5 will be labeled with an “E”.

What is the message here?

Those people who we view as outstanding influences in our lives, those people we look up to and admire, are held in that esteem not because of how “smart” they were, but because of the way they made us feel about ourselves, our jobs, and the world around us. The same will be true of you. It’s not how smart you are that will make you a great leader, but how you invest in others and how they invest in you.

This concept is called Emotional Intelligence. We will talk about this more next week.

Until next time.....

Dave Meyer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

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