Henry Kissinger once said,
The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.
I’ve been a leader many times in my life. I seem to gravitate towards this path in spite of myself. I often joke that being the leader of 8 Women Dream equates to herding cats.
I cultivated my first managerial job at age 23. I had to solve the problems of brides who weren’t happy with the littlest details of their wedding — even when the upscale wedding boutique I was managing had nothing to do with the problem. Some brides just hate people for breathing. Can I just say right here and now how NOT fun that was. I was good at being a manager and wedding consultant . . . I could calm any bride down, or her mother, or her sister, or her grandmother, cousin, best-friend, sister-in-law in minutes.
But I hated it.
The stress was immense, and it was my first experience with the idea that “just because you do something well, does not mean you should do it for a living.”
I decided to trade taffeta for banking and planned never to be a leader again. This lasted all of about four years until I found myself being promoted in spite of myself. There’s no getting around being a leader . . . if you tend to lead . . . they tend to find you.
All of us eventually get our turn at leadership, because when you become a parent, you are forced into leadership as soon as you hear your child’s first cry. Someone has to raise them. It may as well be you. Sometimes your leadership decisions will be unpopular. Ever tell a teenager they can’t text anymore, play video games or watch TV until their grades improve? Ever said no to ice cream before dinner? Ever navigated the supermarket with a hungry, tired 3- year-old and made it out alive? Yep, that’s leadership.
Being an adult brings many opportunities to be a leader. You have to step up. It’s a part of growing up. There’s no running from it, so you may as well embrace it and learn effectively how to herd your own cats.
1. There will be times that you have to follow a course of action in the face of overwhelming criticism, great obstacles and the fears of family and friends.
In an interview by Marty Wilson on his blog, Marty Wilson’s Blog, best-selling author Seth Godin offers this advice on leadership –
My biggest weakness . . . is my desire for no one to be angry.
My biggest weakness as a leader is my desire for no one to be angry. That really hinders my ability to make a difference. In a group of 100 people, five will always be angry about something. If you’re going to try to please this unknown group of five in advance, you’ll end up being boring and stuck.
So the challenge is to pick the work that matters enough that it’s actually worth annoying people. That, and insulating yourself from casual hallway grumbling. A fly on the wall might hear everything, but at the end of the day he still eats a lot of horse dung.
Fortunately I’ve realized that as I get older I have a lot less to prove and a lot more to accomplish. When you’re willing to give other people credit, you can get a lot more done, and when you spend time glorifying the work of your tribe, you can make far more things happen.
2. You need to have a sense of humor and the ability to laugh at yourself.
A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done. – Dwight David Eisenhower
3. You have to put a value on your time and follow Pareto’s Principle by only focusing on the 20% that matters. Pareto’s Principle is the 80/20 Rule where you focus 80% of your time and energy on the 20% of work that leads to your needed outcome. It is also important to classify the people in your work environment that waste 80% of your time.
Being overwhelmed is often as unproductive as doing nothing, and is far more unpleasant. Being selective – doing less – is the path of the productive. Focus on the important few and ignore the rest. – Timothy Ferris
4. You should develop the habit of asking questions of the people you lead who are the most efficient and tuned-in. Listen to their feedback on how they’d make things better.
June Rokoff, Senior VP for Software Development at Lotus credits her success in turning around the company’s position in the software industry to building a team that listens: she made listening the culture of her team. -Glen Rifkin
5. Learn to control your emotional defensiveness. Fear of hurting you or having to deal with your defensive behavior make people hesitant to tell you when something isn’t working.
Feedback is the breakfast of champions. – Ken Blanchard
Negative feedback is better that none. I would rather have a man hate me than overlook me. As long as he hates me I make a difference. – Hugh Prather
Everybody needs feedback, and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than paying a trainer. – Doug Lowenstein
6. Be a conscious and present listener – don’t run conversations in your head while the people who support you are trying to give you feedback. Actually try to hear what they are saying. This includes not answering the phone, typing an email, glancing constantly at your smart phone, staring out the window and walking away while they are talking.
You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time. – M. Scott Peck
7. Remain calm during crisis and don’t let fear take hold.
Leaders who have never experienced failure are less able to handle a crisis. When you fail, it is how you respond that counts . . . your deeper qualities come out. – Steve Tappin, co-author of The Secrets of CEOs
8. Encourage people. Push them to be great. Focus on their strengths. Let them take credit. Lead people to take charge so that you can focus on the vision. Great leaders don’t compete with their group, they allow them to shine.
Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out. – Ronald Reagan
9. Be passionate about what you are leading. Don’t do something because you are good at it – do something because you are passionate about it.
A great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position. – John Maxwell
It takes courage and confidence to become a leader. We will often be criticized for our decisions. It is easier to follow, blame and criticize a leader, rather than step put in front and take risks to change your life. Leaders understand this and accept it as part of the territory.
My most important lesson I have learned by being a leader is that you must love change. Change is everything. Without change nothing happens. Change is your friend. Change is your teacher. Embrace change like a trained sky diver jumps out of a plane – take it head-on and leap into the unknown!
Be the leader of your dreams. Take a chance. Herd some cats. Show passion. This is no dress rehearsal.
Catherine’s dream is to be a motivator and published writer. She is testing her theories on motivation with this blog and the seven other women who have volunteered to be a part of her dream project. Catherine also writes about her life as a mom at the blog A Week In The Life Of A Redhead. She would also like to be invited to speak at TED as the next Erma Bombeck. Catherine posts on Monday mornings and fills in when needed.
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