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Lead, Follow, and Get Out of the Way

Lead, Follow, and Get Out of the Way
Statue

Leadership seems to be on everyone’s minds one these days. Educators talk about “teaching leadership”, religious and charitable organizations host “leadership development” programs , businesses invest heavily in “leadership training”. But what is leadership, exactly? And how do we practice it?

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Leadership is about bringing out and mobilizing the best in the people around you. It’s about helping a group of people work
together towards a shared goal or set of goals. When leadership works, it creates leaders, not followers.

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It follows then that leadership is not a trait of individuals. Leadership theorist James MacGregor Burns describes leadership as a collective process, a characteristic of the relationship between individuals rather than a property of individuals themselves.

Leadership is often confused with power. The common idea is that leaders speak, and followers do. But while leaders
may also hold a certain kind of power, in some senses power is the opposite of leadership: power is what we resort to when leadership fails.

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Another misconception about leadership is that it flows from charisma. While history does offer us the example of
charismatic leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and John F. Kennedy, there is no necessary link between charisma and leadership — there are plenty of charming, likable fellows selling used cars in backwater towns, too. And there are plenty of examples of effective leaders who lack charisma: Margaret Thatcher, Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, and Richard Nixon, to name a few.

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So what is it? And what do we have to learn to practice leadership ourselves? Here’s a short list of ways that leaders exercise leadership, simple practices from which leadership emerges.

What Do Leaders Do?

  • Leaders listen. Listening is not waiting for your turn to speak. Listening is an active engagement with the person you are talking with. Leadership grows out of knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your colleagues, their fears and triumphs, what motivates them and what turns them off. There’s a trick psychologists recommend, where you try to summarize what your conversation partner just told you and what you understood them to be saying, like this: “So the police officer gave you the ticket anyway, and you feel that was unfair?” This gives your partner a chance to correct you if you’re wrong or confirm that you more or less got what they were saying — plus it helps you to learn and not just respond.
  • Leaders empower those around them. Leadership is not about controlling everything. What separates leaders from the merely powerful is that leaders involve everyone around them and welcome their contributions, however small. Leaders help the people around them feel comfortable putting their ideas forward and acting on them. This is why actively listening is so important — it lets people know that what they say is valuable and important. If leadership is about making those around you into leaders, you have to let go and trust others to move your shared projects forward.
  • Leaders recognize others’ strengths. Empowering others is bound up with recognizing what they are good at and encouraging them to develop those strengths. Surely you’ve run across people who simply cannot take a compliment — they simply have no idea of their own value. Good leaders recognize the value of those around them anyway, and act accordingly.
  • Leaders are trustworthy. There’s a reason people get so upset when prominent figures are exposed as hypocrites: it calls into question everything they came to believe about themselves and their goals. People may not believe you when you compliment them the first time, but as you build a consistent track record of honest and fair dealing, they will come to believe. Likewise, when you always do what you say you will do, when you act in accordance with the values you espouse, you become an inspiration to those around you.
  • Leaders are confident. Good leaders are sure of themselves and their goals. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have been to the mountaintop. I have seen the Promised Land!” This kind of certainty is infectious — it conveys not just our wishes but our passions and makes them appear real and inevitable. It keeps us focused on our goals and not on the difficulty of attaining them.
  • Leaders make decisions. People generally do not like to make decisions. They much prefer routines, known processes with known outcomes, and there’s a great deal of value in reducing complicated situations to a set of routines — much of the GTD methodology, for example, is based on creating effective routines (reducing complex projects to simple tasks, or “cranking widgets” as Dave Allen likes to say). But leadership is, by definition, about change, often disruptive change, and change demands decision-making, often between bad options. Leadership lies, therefore, in the wiliness to step forward and make a decision, and in taking responsibility for the consequences of our decisions.
  • Leaders recognize the value in other perspectives. Leaders recognize their own limitations and the power that other people’s knowledge and life experience have to expand and push us past our limits. Leadership means trying to see the world from the perspective of those around you, even those who are working against you.
  • Leaders commit to action. There are a lot of smart, thoughtful people in the world who know exactly what needs to be done to change the world we live in, yet their worlds never change. Leadership means taking the next step and actually doing it. Leaders convert future goals into immediate actions and either do them or inspire others to do them.
  • Leaders demand commitment from others. In any project, there are lots of “hangers-on”, people who are interested in the goals being worked toward but not really invested in the process of attaining them. Leadership lies in helping those people to become invested, generally by asking them to take responsibility for some action or set of actions. People who have made a commitment to doing something concrete are not only much more likely to do it but they come to view the overall project as their own — and to feel responsible for and to their colleagues.
  • Leaders share ownership. As I said, leadership is about making those around us into leaders; ultimately leaders get out of the way. The best person for the job of creating change may not be the best person for the job of maintaining the new order (consider what usually happens when military leaders install themselves as political leaders after overthrowing a corrupt regime). Good leadership lies in creating in others the sense that the goals they are working towards are their own — as are the rewards. By giving up control and sharing ownership of their goals and passions, good leaders help to insure that the changes they envision — whether it is a successful product launch or a radical social transformation — will endure beyond their own active participation.

I hate the idea of “followers”. True leadership is not about amassing followers, it is about building teams, it is about creating social structures that effect change, however small or great, in the world. Followers are for demagogues, people who want the thrill of being adored and of exercising power over others, people too selfish and too weak to share. If we look at the history of social change, these “leaders” have almost always become exactly what they’ve claimed to replace. Real leadership is about real change, not personnel shifting.

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Last Updated on June 20, 2019

50 Businesses You Can Start In Your Spare Time

50 Businesses You Can Start In Your Spare Time

Most people want a few more dollars in their wallets. But between an employer and family, the time most of us can devote to a second job is severely limited. Running a small side business can provide a few more options: you don’t have to show up at a set time and you can use skills you already have. Not all will be perfect for everyone, of course, and I’m sure that you’ll have a few ideas of your own after reading this list. If you’d like to share any other business ideas, please add them in the comments.

  1. Selling collectibles — From antique books to teddy bears, there are plenty of opportunities to buy and sell collectibles. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the collectible of your choice but if you choose something that you’ve been collecting for a while, you’ve got a head start.
  2. Locating apartments — It can take time to sort through apartment listings, but you can make some money by finding the perfect apartment for a renter.
  3. Baby proofing — New parents often prefer to bring in an expert to make sure their home is safe for a new baby.
  4. Calligraphic writing — If you’ve got elegant handwriting, you can pick up gigs writing or addressing wedding invitations, holiday cards and more.
  5. Selling coupons — Search on eBay for coupons right now and you’ll see thousands of listings for coupons. It’s just a matter of clipping and listing what you find in your Sunday newspaper.
  6. Pet training — A surprising number of people don’t know where to start in training a pet. Even teaching Rover simple commands like ‘Sit’ and ‘Stay’ can bring in a few dollars.
  7. Running errands — A wide variety of people want to outsource their errands, from those folks who aren’t able to leave their homes easily to those who have a busy schedule.
  8. Researching family trees — Amateur genealogists often call in experts, especially to handle research that has to be done in person in a far off place. If you’re willing to go to a local church and copy a few records, you can handle many family tree research requests.
  9. Supplying firewood — The prerequisite for selling firewood is having a source of wood; if you’ve got some land where you can cut down a few trees, you’ve got a head start.
  10. Hauling — As more people trade in their SUVs for compact cars, hauling is becoming more important: people have to rent a truck or hire a hauler for even small loads.
  11. Image consulting — Image consultants provide a wide variety of services, ranging from offering advice on appearance to teaching etiquette.
  12. Menu planning — For many people, the trip up in eating home-cooked or healthy meals is knowing what to prepare. Meal planners set a schedule to solve certain dietary problems.
  13. Microfarming — Cultivating food and flowers on small plots of land allows you to sell produce easily.
  14. Offering notary public services — Notary publics can witness and authenticate documents: a service needed for all sorts of official documents.
  15. Teaching music — If you’re skilled with a musical instrument, you can earn money by offering lessons.
  16. Mystery shopping — Mystery shoppers check the conditions and service at a store and report back to the store’s higher-ups.
  17. Offering research services — Just by reading up on a topic and compiling a report on it can earn you money.
  18. Personal shopping — Personal shoppers typically select gifts, apparel and other products for clients, helping them save time.
  19. Pet breeding — Purebred pets can be quite value, especially if you can verify their pedigree.
  20. Removing snow — During the winter months, shoveling walks can still be a reliable way to earn money. You might be asked to take care of the driveway too.
  21. Utility auditing — As people become environmentally-concious, they want to know just how efficient their homes are. With some simple testing, you can tell them.
  22. Offering web hosting services — Providing server space can be lucrative, particularly if you can provide tech support to your clients.
  23. Cutting lawns — An old standby, cutting lawns and other landscaping services can provide a second income in the summer.
  24. Auctioning items on eBay — Want to get rid of all your old stuff? Stick it up on eBay and auction it off.
  25. Babysitting — Child care of all kinds, from babysitting to nannying, can offer constant opportunities.
  26. Freelance writing — If you’ve got the skills to write clearly, you can sell your pen for everything from blogs to advertising copy.
  27. Selling blog and website themes — Do a little designing on the side? Customers that don’t want to pay full price for a website will often pay for a template or theme.
  28. Offering computer help — Particularly with people new to computers, you can earn money by providing in-home computer help.
  29. Designing websites — It may require a little skilled effort, but designing websites remains a reliable source of income.
  30. Selling stock photography — For shutterbugs, an easy way to put a photography collection to work is to post it to a stock photography site.
  31. Freelance designing — Check with local businesses: you can provide brochures, business cards and other design work and get paid a good fee.
  32. Tutoring — Math and languages reamin the easiest subjects to find tutoring gigs for, but there is demand for other fields as well.
  33. Housesitting / petsitting — Stopping in to check on a house or pet can earn you some money, and maybe even a place to stay.
  34. Building niche websites — If you can put together a site on a very specific topic, you can put targeted ads on it and make money quickly.
  35. Translating — The variety of translating work available is huge: written word, on the spot and more is easy to find even on a part-time basis.
  36. Creating custom crafts — No matter what kind of crafts you make, there’s likely a market for it. Etsy remains one of the easiest places to sell crafts.
  37. Setting up a wi-fi hotspot — With a little bit of equipment, you can set up a wi-fi hotspot and charge your neighbors for the access they’ve been ‘borrowing.’
  38. Selling an e-book — You can write an e-book about almost anything and put it up for sale online.
  39. Affiliate marketing — If you’re willing to market other companies’ products, you can earn a cut of the sales.
  40. Renting out your spare room — From looking for a long-term roommate to listing your guest room on couch surfing sites, that spare room can make you money.
  41. Offering handy man services — Handling small household tasks can provide you with plenty of work, although you’ll probably be expected to have your own tools.
  42. Teaching an online class — Share your expertise through a website, an online seminar or variety of other methods.
  43. Building furniture — For those with the skill to create handmade furniture, selling their creations is often just a matter of advertising.
  44. Providing personal chef services — Personal chefs prepare meals ahead of time for customers, leaving their customers with a full freezer and no mess.
  45. Event planning — From planning corporate events to bar mitzvahs, an event planning business can require plenty of work and offer plenty of pay.
  46. Installing home safety products — Particularly as Baby Boomers age, people able to install handrails and other home safety products are in demand.
  47. Altering / tailoring — If your sewing skills are up to par, altering garments is coming back as people try to stretch more wear out of their clothing.
  48. Offering in-home beauty services — Hair cuts, makeup and other beauty services that can be performed at home have a growing demand.
  49. Business coaching — Helping others to establish and develop their businesses can provide many opportunities to earn money.
  50. Writing resumes — Writing resumes can provide a reliable income, especially if you can put a polish on a client’s credentials.

There are plenty of offers that claim to provide you with the opportunity to make thousands of dollars a week. Unfortunately, none of these businesses will provide that sort of income, but they aren’t scams either. They were chosen because they all require a minimum investment to get started — some require nothing more than a flyer advertising your business. Even better, if you do enjoy any of these businesses, there is a potential with most of them to continue to expand — perhaps even to the point of going full time.

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Featured photo credit: Omar Prestwich via unsplash.com

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