Taking Steps Toward Leadership

I have been reading 2 leadership books.  The authors are giants in the field and they have interesting approaches to leadership.  One of them promotes a set of rules most of which every leader abides by.  Now he states that it is the rare leader that abides by all of them, but generally, they follow more of them than average people.  There are LOTS of rules.  The other author indicates that everyone can be a leader as long as they focus on their strengths and chose team members with strengths in areas that the leader lacks or is weak in.  I found one of his suppositions interesting.  He stated that those with self confidence were those that were allowed to use their strengths in the fields that they had chosen.  Those self confident individuals became leaders.  Those that lacked self confidence were not allowed to use their strengths in the careers they had chosen.  They rarely became leaders.  Sometimes we tend to get cause and effect reversed.

The rule guy believes that everyone can follow the rules, live the rules and teach the rules and become and produce leaders.  What if it’s the other way around?  What if you must already have the skills of a leader in order to lead?  If you examine the rules, some stand out as procedures…Listen, treat people with respect, become someone of character to earn respect.  Those qualities can absolutely be learned.  But how do you learn to see 5-6 steps ahead of everyone else?  How do you teach leadership intuitiveness?  How do you learn timing?  If you do not have these natural gifts, you have to find someone that does and put them in  your inner circle.  Just following the rules doesn’t make you a natural leader.  But a natural leader following the rules becomes a phenomenal leader.  The Strengths guy believes that leaders are built because they’re allowed to use their strengths in their careers or their schooling.  What if it’s the other way around?  What if the natural leaders are the ones that FIND a way to use their strengths; they’re not the ones that are ALLOWED to use their strengths.

Do these 2 authors have the same ideas just put in different ways?  I believe they do.  If you are in a leadership position, you can improve your skills by following the rules and get some people on your team to help you .  You can choose these teammates by attracting people with the same values, the same attitude, the same vision and different giftedness.   Or if you are in a leadership position, and you are aware of your strengths and weaknesses, you can supplement your team with people who are strong where you are weak.

The one shortcoming is that both authors assume that you are already in a leadership position.  But both posit that a follower can become a leader by implementing their philosophies.  If someone is on the factory floor and just punches a time clock every day, how do they become a leader?  If someone is working the back line in fast food, who is going to follow them?  If someone is an average student in a class, what makes them want to take a leadership position?  Isn’t it easier to follow the gifted leaders?  Absolutely!  Leading is Hard Work!

I worked the back line in fast food.  The work was hard, stressful, and team based.  If you had a good team that worked together, you could make it through a rush.  If you didn’t, you got complaints from the customers, from the front line, from the managers, from each other and it could bring you to tears.  The key was the leadership.  The general manager, the assistant managers, and the crew chiefs needed to make sure that all the teams worked well together.  It was a rare thing to find someone in those positions that could make a cohesive unit out of  some older folks that had run out of options and were forced to work in a hot, sweaty, greasy environment with kids 1/4 to 1/2 their ages.  How do you get a teen-aged girl with nothing but boys on her mind to work smoothly with a grandma who’s given up on retirement to make 2000 biscuits from 5:00 AM to 11:00 AM 6 days a week?  How do you get a team of teen-aged kids to work with a guy going through a messy divorce who has to work this 2nd job in fast food to make ends meet?  Do you get together and have discussions about the vision of that team? their goals and dreams for the franchise?  Most of the people working in fast food would rather be anywhere else. You can’t have executive meetings with power points and charts and graphs.  Your crew will not have long term plans.  They don’t WANT long term plans.  They want a paycheck so they can make their car insurance payment and keep their utilities on.  Most of the crew have no designs on running their own store or getting a promotion.

The leaders will rise to the top though.  Their visions are limited and short term:  Can we get through this dinner rush with the 2 buses that just pulled in?  How are we going to survive with 8 people missing on a 13 man crew?  How do we survive when the computer has shut down?  This guy has a gun and is stealing our change machine, now what?  There is no “law of survival,” or a strength described as just “soldiering on.”  Yet, as these situations do (and did) come up, the leader did precisely that.  The leader found a way to raise production to handle the buses. When the electricity went out all over the area and the restaurant was the only place to get hot food during the blizzard, the leader found a way to feed everyone that came through even though they were missing 8 of the 13 people they needed for a crew.  The leader managed to show people how to use the calculators and collect the money and get the orders back to the back line for the 4 hours that the computers were down.  The leader kept everyone calm and got a description of the car and the license plate of the thief and no one got harmed during the robbery.  In 2 of those cases listed above, the leader was not the one with the title.  Were they real leaders then, even if their visions were 2-4 hours in length, their plans were not made months in advance and consisted of make-shift adjustments, and their goals were temporary and not life altering?  I believe so.

They made use of their strengths because that was precisely what was needed at the time, and as leaders they recognized they had the strengths to get the job done.  They made use of their people skills and their ingenuity and the talents of the people around them to succeed.  There might have been other leaders present that did not have the correct skills or strengths needed for those particular situations.  Or, if you see it from a different view, they didn’t see how their skills could have been used, so they didn’t step up.  What I’m proposing then is this:  Leaders find a way to Lead.  Leaders find a way to use their strengths, regardless of the situation.  Followers with the same skill set and the same strengths relinquish leadership roles because following is easier.   Following rules and examining your strengths will not change your perspective.  You have to change your perspective:  see yourself as a leader, and THEN improve your skills with the rules and identify your strengths and improve them.  You have to want to be a leader, and as a leader, you have to want to improve.

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