WHAT IF????????

What if leadership wasn’t about you?  What if leadership was about creating the future?  What if leadership was about empowering others to lead or taking the role of follower?  What if leadership is about serving others?  What if leadership was all of this and more?  Leadership in the 21st century comes with high expectations.  Some might say, “I can’t be all things to all people!”  True!  But you can strive to understand those whom you serve and commit yourself to providing them with exemplary leadership.  How?  Let’s consider some perspectives

What if leadership was about creating the future?  Bill Taylor, cofounder of Fast Company and author of Simply Brilliant:  How Great Organizations Do Ordinary Things in Extraordinary Ways  begins his HBR post, The Four Kinds of Leaders Who Invent the Future with a series of thought-provoking future-focused questions:

1 What does it take to invent the future in a turbulent and uncertain world?

2 How do successful organizations build on their history, even as they craft a new point of view about what comes next?

3 How do established brands stay true to their original promise, while also making themselves relevant to new customers with different values and preferences?

4 How can accomplished executives be sure that all they know – their hard earned wisdom and expertise – doesn’t limit what they can imagine?

Taylor shares that he has paid close attention to leaders who embrace these types of questions and their habits of  mind.  He sorts them into four categories:

1 The Learning Zealot: Creative leaders are always asking themselves, “Am I learning as fast as the world is changing?”

2 The Personal Disruptor: Leaders who are fit for the future know when it is time to reinvent themselves, to engage in a little personal disruption

3 The Tough-Minded Optimist:  The future is created by highly motivated people, by enthusiasts, by men and women who want something very much or believe very much.

4 The Eager Experimenter:  Leaders who are fit for the future support lots of ideas, knowing that most of them won’t deliver as planned, and to discover the few that will deliver bigger than anyone imagined.

Taylor admits this is a simplification and no one falls purely into one category, but embracing these traits certainly helps any leader with the hard work of bringing about change.  He concludes by asking, “Leaders who move their organizations forward are the ones who can reimagine what they’ve always done, refresh and reinterpret the products and services they offer, and unleash bold experiments about what comes next.” Are you that kind of leader?  If you are interested he shares a 16 question quiz to help you determine into which category you fall.  I’m a tough-minded optimist!

What if leadership was about empowering others or becoming a follower?  John Reh, a senior business executive and author shares that there are times that good leaders don’t lead.  They let others lead and they become followers who are every bit as good as following as they are leading.  His post, “Leaders Don’t Always Lead” published in thebalance.com proposes that there are commonly three reasons that leaders choose to step back and provide someone else with the opportunity to lead  What are they?

1 Training:  Leaders develop their team members, and two of the important skills they teach are leadership and followership.  The leader has to know when to let team a team member face a challenge.  Providing an opportunity to practice the skill of leadership is necessary if it is to be solidified.  Likewise creating this opportunity sets the stage for the second lesson -followership.  The leader demonstrates by example what good followership is and, in essence, trains team members each time he or she does not lead.

2 Delegation:  Delegation is a specific form of training.  Delegation provides team members with the opportunity to function in a leadership role in an area in which they have had an opportunity to observe and learn from.  Delegation provides dual confidence opportunities.  First, it provides an opportunity for the development of confidence on the part of the team member.  Successful completion of a delegated task is an enormous boost to self-confidence.  Secondly, delegation can serve as a sign that the team leader has confidence in the team member and their ability to successfully complete the given task.  It can be a win-win situation.

3 Expertise:  Successful leaders relinquish their role when they recognize that someone else has greater expertise with a task at hand.  Leaders who have surrounded themselves with talented subordinates may often find themselves in this situation.  Not only does this provide opportunities for subordinates to demonstrate their leadership skill, but it also demonstrates the strength of the team.  Most important it demonstrates that the leader has an understanding of his/her team’s strengths and leverages these for the benefit of the organization.

Sometimes a leader’s strongest demonstration of leadership is demonstrating the ability to serve the needs of others and create opportunities for them to lead.  In doing so, the leader puts service to others and their organization first.  So what if leadership was about serving others?

Imagine I had the opportunity to spend 5 minutes with each of your reports and I asked them to describe you in one sentence or phrase.  What would they say?  Would they say that you are a servant leader, that you strive to put others first?  Simon Senek in his book, Leaders Eat Last writes, “Great leaders sacrifice their own comfort—even their own survival—for the good of those in their care.” That idea is reinforced by Cheryl Williamson, a member of the Forbes Coaches Council, in her Forbes.com post, “Servant Leadership:  How to Put Your People Before Yourself”.   She begins by characterizing a servant leader as one who works tirelessly to develop his or her people and is focused on what they can do for others.  Equally important, the servant leader strives to establish a culture of servant leadership within the organization.  How?  She provides some suggestions:

Let others see you serve and encourage them to join you:  Let both employees and clients witness your service.  It could be a community activity, a charity event, or a fund raiser, but it serves to demonstrate that servant leadership embodies service.

Make sure they know you care:  We’ve all heard the famous quote, “They don’t know how much you know till they know how much you care” .  Place the importance of taking care of your people above the importance of the bottom line.  Little things like the morning greeting, the thanks at the end of the day, the birthday or sympathy card, or asking about the children and/or grandchildren.  These small actions demonstrate you care.  Remember, when you take care of your people, they will take care of your customers and clients.

Invest in your people:  Leaders can certainly provide professional development and other opportunities for skill development, but the greater investment comes when they give of their own time.  Getting to know your people and taking the time to talk with them about their growth, development and career aspirations demonstrates your genuine interest in them as a person.  Spending quality time with your team will directly impact their job performance and will have positive impact on the organization’s bottom line.

Don’t place restrictions on your willingness to serve:  I’ve sometimes heard the phrase, “ ring that is above my pay grade.”  For the servant leader, no job is beneath their pay grade.  Servant leaders are the first to jump in, roll up their sleeves, and get to work.  Their actions demonstrate that they are willing to serve in any manner possible so that the needs of the client, customer, or member of their staff are met.

Williamson ends her post with a challenge, “Only good can come from you showing your people what it means to serve first.  I challenge you to explore ways to foster servant leadership in your own leadership style and among your team as well.”  I like that challenge.

Imagine that, leadership that is future focused, empowers others and based on a philosophy of service to others!  What if?????????

Embrace the Challenge!