Are You a Strong Leader? Answer These 3 Questions
How do you rate yourself as a leader?
How I lead could be mildly interesting. How to lead is always relevant and is also the subject of countless articles and books. But how you lead and continually assess your effectiveness regardless of your position is of critical importance. Too many discussions on leadership are focused on the top of the organizational hierarchy, when in fact leadership is prevalent in all.
The reality is that every single one of us is a leader. At a minimum, every day you lead yourself to make various decisions for good or bad. You lead projects and initiatives at home and work. The leadership choices you make influence and affect the people around you, your family and your fellow teammates. You either give or take energy by the way you lead. You either accelerate or impede progress by the way you lead.
You are a leader whether you like it or not. The question is: Are you a strong leader? Answer the following three questions to find out.
How much do you care?
Early in my career, I had a serious health scare. I will never forget waking up in the hospital. I looked to my right and there was my wife holding my hand. I looked to my left and there was my boss holding my other hand. I know what you are thinking. Yes, it was a bit of an awkward moment, but wow, what a picture of how much he cared. Genuinely cared! As you can imagine, there was nothing that I wouldn’t do for that leader because of the way he stood beside me in a difficult time.
Caring starts with a genuine interest in the people around you. The best teachers are those who care the most about their students. The best civil servants are those who care the most about their constituents. The best business leaders are those who care the most about their people. And to give you fair warning, you can’t fake it until you make it on this one. People see through disingenuous leaders in a heartbeat.
To be a great leader you not only have to care about people, but you also have to care about a cause. What is that one thing that compels you? Convert your passion into a vision, and you will be amazed at how people follow you as you lean into the problem you want to fix or the opportunity you want to seize.
Care more than anybody else around you and watch how people will follow you!
How courageous are you?
The good news is that if you “scored” well on the first question, the rest of the assessment is easy. The courage to lead is a function of the depth of your conviction. The depth of your conviction is a function of how much you care.
To be an effective leader, you have to take risks, and taking risks requires courage. This is equally true in your personal life and in your work. Are you dreaming big enough? Are you thinking big enough? Are you prepared to take the risks that come with being a leader? Recently, my pastor made a statement that really caught my attention. He challenged the congregation to think big, start small and go deep.
Thinking big is about caring enough to have a vision for better. Starting small is about mustering the courage to begin your journey toward better, one step at a time. Going deep is about building those trusted relationships as you work with those you lead.
One of my best mentors in life once told me, “Bob, remember that what you permit, you promote.” When he told me this piece of advice I didn’t initially hear it as a statement about the courage to lead. Today, I realize that it is all about courage.
Too often we are fearful to confront bad behavior. A team member is not living the group’s values, but he or she is a good friend, a high performer and/or possesses a scarce skill, so you rationalize and allow the bad behavior. The problem is that your team knows exactly what you are doing and why. They get frustrated. They begin to lose confidence in you.
Don’t rationalize bad behavior. Don’t give in an inch on your values. Have the courage to confront others when needed. And recognize that if you don’t, you are condoning the individual and promoting their behavior!
Let how much you care give you the courage to lead, and watch how others will follow you!
How calm are you when the unexpected happens?
Stuff happens. Emotion is natural, and fear can actually be healthy. But it is important that as you lead, you do so from a calm and centered demeanor.
Countless times someone has called me with a message that is of the “Houston, we have a problem.” nature. I often think about that line in the movie Apollo 13 when the flight commander responds to the panic around him by saying, “Work the problem people.”
We all have tremendous respect for Captain C.B. “Sully” Sullenberger because he was a leader who worked the problem by making an emergency landing on the Hudson River, thereby saving many lives. I watched Ernst & Young LLP’s US Chairman and Americas Managing Partner, Steve Howe, with great admiration as he calmly navigated our firm through the challenges of the financial crisis in 2008. People around you are watching you.
On a lighter note, I recall one time I was about to do a live broadcast to more than 10,000 EY professionals. Literally seconds before we went “on air,” the TV studio had a power surge and the monitors with my “doghouse” notes went black.
Missing my notes wasn’t the hard part. What was difficult was the fact that I had to deliver the first several minutes of my broadcast with several technicians crawling on the floor around my feet trying to re-establish the connection. That was definitely one of those “keep calm and carry on” moments.
When the unexpected happens, yes, you need to stay calm, but you also need to work the problem; by doing so you will lead your team through the challenge and their fear. Caring more gives you greater courage, which will give you the strength and presence you need to lead when things aren’t going as planned.
Stay calm, and watch how others will follow you!
It is important to note that an equal concern is understanding why you want to lead. If you aspire to lead because you’re motivated by power or pay, that is not a path to being a true leader, and will not end well. The day you step off your leadership platform, your phone will stop ringing, and that fancy car will lose its new car smell. You will soon realize that the pursuit of power and pay is fleeting, but the value of leadership is ongoing.
So how did you do? Did your answers indicate you are a strong leader?
Regardless of what you “scored,” you can always improve on these three key leadership skills and become a stronger leader. Remember, no matter what your role is you are a leader. To advance your skills, care more than everybody around you. Let your vision for better give you the courage of your convictions. Stay calm as you lean into the headwinds of leadership. And enjoy the incredible experiences that your leadership journey will bring.