Taking Steps toward Leadership

We’ve been talking about teamwork and delegation, but one thing that keeps coming up is who’s the real leader of the group?

A little late to be talking about that, but some of the problems come up when you THINK you’re the leader and you aren’t.  Who is the leader?  The one with the manager’s tag?  The one with all the degrees?  The one that developed the product and started the company?  The one that was first on the scene?  The one with the most experience?  Leading, especially in volunteer organizations, is not based on position or leverage.  It is not based on the charter of the group.  Leadership is not based on who’s the smartest in the room.  How do you know who’s leading then?  Look around the room.  The real leader is not giving orders…he’s in the corner listening and nodding and giving suggestions.  The real leader may not control the gavel, she may be the one that offers the solutions that everyone agrees on.  You’ll know him or her because when this person speaks, everyone listens.  How do you delegate and work on morale and teamwork if you are not the leader?

If you find yourself working on the morale and the direction of the group from a position that is not leadership, if you are making recommendations and asking questions that move the group toward the goal, you may be actually building your leadership within the group.  This can result in 2 different responses.  On the positive side, the group moves closer to its goal, the morale and the team feeling begins to grow.  The actual leader appreciates your contributions and leads the team more effectively.  OR (dat dat daaaaaaaaahhhhh) the leader feels threatened and will work to discredit you, to oust you or to use one of the myths of leadership to reclaim the position.  Those myths listed above are the common basis for recognizing leadership.  Don’t we all know the guys with the corner office that hasn’t a clue what to do with his staff?  If you want something done, you have to tell the secretary!  We all know the expert that can debunk all the research and criticize all the work and never is on the leading edge.  We’ve probably never followed a geek because they hate people and hide in cubicles refusing to lead.  Or you walk into an office and it is wall to wall licenses, certifications and degrees and no successes in his resume.  We can agree that the obvious leader isn’t always the leader in fact.

Watch the group around you.  Who is doing the most to move the group where it needs to be?   Who might be feeling unappreciated or insulted and determined that the group will fail if the leader doesn’t actually lead?  If the apparent leader doesn’t improve him or herself in the areas of leadership and doesn’t step up, the group will fail.  But if the real leader of the group is out for revenge, it’s possible that the group will fail sooner or more spectacularly!  You get revenge leaders when the leader in position looses the trust and the respect of the members of the team.  These bad apparent leaders exhibit some negative character traits like we discussed before, especially in the integrity and helpful areas.  If a leader doesn’t treat the team well, he or she will lose their respect.  Without trust and respect, the project and the team is doomed.  Then negative actual leaders in the group may rise to take the position away from the bad leader, and sabotage the program.  If there are good leaders that revolt, they may oust the bad leader and get the job done anyway.  Look to see who garners the most respect in any group you’re in.  Whom do the members look to for solutions and direction?  Do they have a good record in decisions and successes?  How do they treat the people they work with?  How do they couch their suggestions?

Remember that story about the 2 guys in the fast food restaurant that were getting trained to be managers in a new store?  The one insisted that the employees had to respect the shirt, and it was his way or the highway.  He was told that employees respect the shirt right up until the guy wearing it opened his mouth.  He didn’t understand that he had to earn the respect of the people he worked with, and he had to exhibit the kind of character that inspires people to follow his lead.  He didn’t last long.  When a person follows a leader, the person allows the leader’s thoughts to infiltrate the conscious mind, percolate through the subconscious and become part of his/her being.  Followers adopt the destination, the attitude, the perseverance and the dedication to the goal of the leader based on the leader’s character, experience, integrity, attitude, vision and plan.  The 1st steps are trust and respect.

If you are the leader, you must earn the trust and respect of those you’re leading.  If you are not the leader, but have better leadership skills, you make sure that the team gets where it’s going regardless of the skill of the person in charge.  If the leader is not a person of integrity or worthy of respect, if they are insecure in their position and defensive, you may be in for a fight.  If this happens, make sure they know that the “fight” must be private.  Always take the high road, but be prepared to have to pay for your beliefs and your responsibilities regarding the people on your team.  We have seen good people fired or ousted and have taken the better players out of the team with them.  We have seen confrontations in public that shamed the leader as he sought to bring down the upstart, crippled his chance to reach the team’s goals and gave rise to negative leaders that brought down a whole division of an organization.  If you are leader in name only, find the actual leader of your group and work with them to build up your leadership skills, and lead the team through all the goals necessary to realize the vision.  If you are the actual leader, make sure you keep and grow the respect and the trust of the team so if you do goof up, you know they’ll have your back.  They must know you’ll have theirs as well.

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