Leadership can be more of an art than an exact science. Every situation may require a different approach. Each individual may react different to a certain style. One minute you may have to be nurturing and caring, the next, you may have to be like a drill instructor. Leading is difficult, and while people may be able to be effective to a certain extent, to be truly exceptional requires a special kind of person. Walk around the bookstore and visit the managing & business section and you’ll many titles for leadership techniques, theories, and even biographies written to demonstrate world class leadership. There is a demand for good leaders.
A quick glance through history reveals so many examples of leadership. On a personal level, two pictures really capture my imagination. The painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware River, which may not be accurate in how it happened, is such a wonderful picture of someone leading the action. Not sitting in the background, or simply ordering the solders to cross the river to catch the British off guard, the painting captures a true leadership moment. The second is the photo of General Eisenhower talking to the airborne troops shortly before the Invasion of Normandy. He didn’t drop into action like these men, but his concern for them was so apparent. Two great examples, leading in different ways, but leading with great effectiveness.
The common perception of leadership is of someone in charge of a large following. Washington leading an army and leading the country in our infancy. Eisenhower leading not only the U.S. forces in the European Theater during the Second World War, but leading the entire Allied (British, Canadian, Australian, etc…) effort. Leadership is seen as something only performed by those who are seemingly larger than life. Think of the business world over the last decade. Giants of industry immediately come to mind. Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs are the obvious individuals. Business magazines are always profiling up and coming CEOs and entrepreneurs, showcasing their innovations and their ability to create not only companies, but even entire industries. These are leaders, but they are not the only ones.
These individuals are often world class leaders, and able to not only create a vision, but to have the ability to communicate that to their followers. Magazine articles often profile these types of individuals. Books are written about their lives, management styles, and leadership examples. Leadership is not confined to these people, though. Everyone, I repeat, everyone has the ability to be a leader. On a micro level, even the entry level employee can be leader.
Imagine you complete your classes and receive a degree or certification. After sending out applications and having interview opportunities, you land a position. Your foot is in the door, and a career is just underway. As you step into a new position, realize that your ability to be a leader starts that first day.
Establish yourself as a leader by doing the following:
Take charge of yourself. Set an example. Your job may not have any supervisory skills, nor may your job be one that creates visions and sets policies, but you can lead through work ethic and setting a good example. Come into work early, and stay late when needed. Volunteer to do what’s needed. Five minutes before the end of your shift and you see a problem, fix it. Take action. Sometimes this requires some sacrifice, but if you are dependable and reliable, this will set a tone for others to follow. Be the backbone for your team, and you will look up to. Be honest and set an ethical example. Integrity and ethics are a cornerstone for all development.
Understand the Vision and Mission of the Organization
Organizations have mission statements and goals for a reason. What is the goal for your organization? What is it trying to accomplish? Set your actions to work towards this goal. I work in the educational sector, so I have to make decisions that affect college students. How are my decisions enabling the students to have a better experience? A decision may have two possibilities, and I always defer to the option that will be in the best interests of the students. Ask questions and know your organization inside and out. If you know where the organization is going, you can help to get it there. Your actions can lead the organization towards its ultimate goal. You can lead the way.
Be a Team Player
Everyone has worked in a job where someone was not pulling their weight. A team working in a restaurant may have to work just a bit harder when someone calls in sick, or has to leave early. Life happens, and there are days when you will feel sick and need to stay home. This is acceptable and people understand. Always leaving early, having excuses, or being generally unreliable, you will be viewed as selfish and bad for the team. The team will look down upon you, or ostracize you from the group. If you lose the trust of your teammates, if can be impossible to regain. Be a team player by helping out when able. Perhaps your tasks are complete, but you see someone still working. Offer to help. Do you know a solution to a problem someone is working on, share the knowledge. People know when you hold back. I’ve seen instances before when someone holds back key information and someone struggled as a result. This is very destructive to team cohesion. If you help out and share knowledge, you will reap the rewards and be leading by example.
Leadership is a garden. You sow the seeds and water often. The seedlings will grow, and requires care and attention to grow to the full potential. Pull out the weeds of negativity. Plant the seeds and water, but leave it alone, the growth will be stunted. Your leadership potential will be limited. Always develop. Always. You will develop skills and add much value to the organization. This is the key to advancement and growth as a leader and professional. Healthy leadership practices and skills are the end result of constant attention.
Learn from world class leaders, both modern and from history. They offer so many timeless examples of leadership in action. Learn from bad leaders just the same. See examples of what not to do. Above all, as you embark on a journey into a new career, do not underestimate the ability of you being a leader. Leadership is not only leading a large group of people, it’s also about leading you as an individual. As you learn and grow, your ability to lead grows. No matter what your job position or rank, you can lead if you work hard and keep your eye on the big picture. The possibilities can be endless.