How Anyone Can Provide LeadershipJune 17, 2019 / Travis Tasset
Of all the questions relating to leadership, the “how” question is perhaps the most complex question to answer. Meaning, “how” does a person provide leadership? While there are perhaps unlimited ways someone can lead others, the following six traits are my favorite leadership abilities that one must possess or develop over time if they are to be successful in leading others:
- They can self-regulate their emotions. This trait speaks to one of the four crucial competencies of Emotional Intelligence, self-management, as identified by the leader in this field, Daniel Goleman. Emotional self-management, or self-regulation, is the foundation of Emotional Intelligence. Leaders know how to achieve and maintain emotional coherence and also help others do the same. Goleman is clear that “For leaders, the first task of management has nothing to do with leading others; step one poses the challenge of knowing and managing oneself.” And it is quite the challenge for far too many of us. A lot of people are either all “head” or all “heart” while very few integrate the two (head + heart). The HeartMath Institute is the leader with regards to researching the Heart-Brain Connection. Did you know that “the heart sends more signals to the brain than the brain sends to the heart?” I’ve never agreed with the idea of “keeping emotions out of the workplace” when we are emotional creatures. We have to see emotions as the messengers that they are and integrate them in with our rational thinking minds.
- They lead by example. We have so many sayings in our culture that point to the importance of leading through action. You’ve probably heard the saying that “talk is cheap” or that “actions speak louder than words.” One saying that is attributed to both Friedrich Engels and Ralph Waldo Emerson is that “an ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.” One of my favorite quotes is by Benjamin Franklin who said that “well done is better than well said.” A true leader knows that words don’t teach others – experience does. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Experience is the most brutal of teachers but you learn, my God, do you learn.” You will have successes and you will have failures, but you will learn about yourself, others, and the world. Leaders know leading by example can be scary and they do it anyway. Over time, this experience heightens their empathy, their curiosity, and their resilience. Their experience is also what inspires others to follow them. Leaders know the power of example, and they know the only way to have examples is to have experience. Leaders also know that influence is key in helping guide others. As Albert Schweitzer said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It’s the only thing.” Or as the novelist Catherine Aird said, “If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.”
- They have a positive mental attitude. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Austrian psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Talk about someone who had virtually everything taken from him, and he still found a way to choose how he would show up every day. Think about that the next time you’re going through a tough situation. A leader knows that no matter how dire the situation may be, they recognize that they can still control how they respond to the situation. We are Sovereign beings and it is past time that we not only realize that, but we embrace our sovereignty.
- They are curious. Weak leaders are arrogant in that they think they know everything. They are closed-minded and therefore not easily persuadable. Weak leaders want to be right. Strong leaders want results, even if it means they are wrong and someone else is right. The antidote to arrogance is curiosity. Leaders tend to be curious about how things work, why things are, and what makes people tick. Arrogance finds no home in a person who is curious about what it means to be in another’s shoes. Without arrogance, a person becomes the leader who rolls up their sleeves and works with their team to accomplish more than would ever be done by merely dictating to them.
- They realize and use the power of imagination. No less than Albert Einstein wrote about the power of imagination: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” Coupled with curiosity, imagination allows us to see people and situations in new ways. Imagination is in the leaders’ toolbox because it helps them identify creative solutions and improvements. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke said, “You must give birth to your images. They are the future waiting to be born.”
- They have solution-focused thinking. Most people haven’t cultivated this ability to the degree that they could. Most are problem-saturated with their thinking, meaning we have been conditioned to identify problems (real or imagined), but not to create solutions. We talk about what isn’t working while ignoring the need to find a way to improve. The easiest thing in the world to do is to point out what isn’t working. Anyone can do that all day long which means there isn’t a lot of value in that. That’s the easy part and unfortunately where 90% of people spend their time focusing. True leaders focus on solving those issues, not just surfacing them and then handing them off for someone else to figure out. Leaders are focused on fixing what so many are reluctant to fix. They know that identifying the problem is the start of the race, not the finish line.
None of these are secrets or things that others haven’t pointed to before. Nor are they things that are impossible for mere mortals. They are things that require commitment and work, but for those who want to be leaders, those are welcome things. My questions for you, the leader who is reading this, is: Which of those traits are your strengths? Which ones can you get better at? Lastly, are you willing to commit to working one of them for the next thirty days?