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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 February 20, 2019

How to Get Promoted When You Feel Stuck in Your Current Position

How to Get Promoted When You Feel Stuck in Your Current Position

Are you stuck in the same position for too long and don’t really know how to get promoted and advance your career?

Feeling stuck could be caused by a variety of things:

  • Taking a job for the money
  • Staying with an employer that no longer aligns with your values
  • Realizing that you landed yourself in the wrong career
  • Not feeling valued or feeling underutilized
  • Staying in a role too long out of fear
  • Taking a position without a full understanding of the role

There are many, many other reasons why you may be feeling this way but let’s focus instead on getting unstuck.

As in – getting promoted.

So how to get promoted?

I’m of the opinion that the best way to get promoted is by showing how you add value to your organization.

Did you make money, save money, improve a process, or some other amazing thing? How else might you demonstrated added value?

Let’s dive right in how to get promoted when you feel stuck in your current position:

1. Be a Mentor

When I supervised students, I used to warm them – tongue in cheek, of course – about getting really good at their job.

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“Be careful not to get too good at this, or you’ll never get to do anything else?”

This was my way of pestering them to take on additional challenges or think outside the box, but there is definitely some reality in doing something so well that your manager doesn’t trust anyone else to do it.

This can get you stuck.

Jo Miller of Be Leaderly shares this insight on when your boss thinks you’re too valuable in your current job:[1]

“Think back to a time when you really enjoyed your current role. I bet there was a time when this job was a stretch for you, and you stepped up to the challenge and performed like a rock star. You became known for doing your job so well that you built up some strong “personal brand” equity, and people know you as the go-to-person for this particular job. That’s what we call “a good problem to have”: you did a really good job of building a positive perception about your suitability for the role, but you may have done “too” good of a job!”

With this in mind, how do you prove to your employer that you can add value by being promoted?

In Miller’s insight, she talks about building your personal brand and becoming known for doing a particular job well. So how can you link that work with a position or project that will earn you a promotion?

Consider leveraging your strengths and skills.

Let’s say that project you do so well is hiring and training new entry level employees. You have to post the job listing, read and review resumes, schedule interviews, making hiring decisions, and create the training schedules. These tasks require skills such as employee relations, onboarding, human resources software, performance management, teamwork, collaboration, customer service, and project management. That’s a serious amount of skills!

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Is there anyone else on your team who can perform these skills? Try delegating and training some of your staff or colleagues to learn your job. There are a number of reasons why this is a good idea:

  1. Cross-training helps in any situation in the event that there’s an extended illness and the main performer of a certain task is out for a while.
  2. In becoming a mentor to a supervisee or colleague, you empower then to increase their job skills.
  3. You are already beginning to demonstrate that added value to your employer by encouraging your team or peers to learn your job.

Now that you’ve trained others to do that work for which you have been so valued, you can see about re-requesting that promotion. Be ready to explain how you have saved the company money, encouraged employees to increase their skills, or reinvented that project of yours.

2. Work on Your Mindset

Another reason you may feel stuck in a position is well explained by Ashley Stahl in her Forbes article. Shahl talks about mindset, and says:[2]

“If you feel stuck at a job you used to love, it’s normally you–not the job–who needs to change. The position you got hired for is probably the exact same one you have now. But if you start to dread the work routine, you’re going to focus on the negatives.”

In this situation, you should pursue a conversation with your supervisor and share your thoughts and feelings. You can probably get some advice on how to rediscover the aspects of that job you enjoyed, and negotiate either some additional duties or a chance to move up.

Don’t express frustration. Express a desire for more.

Share with your supervisor that you want to be challenged and you want to move up. You are seeking more responsibility in order to continue moving the company forward. Focus on how you can do that with the skills you have and will develop with some additional projects and coaching.

3. Improve Your Soft Skills

When was the last time you put focus and effort into upping your game with those soft skills? I’m talking about those seemingly intangible things that make you the experienced professional in your specific job skills:

An article on Levo.com suggests that more than 60 percent of employers look at soft skills when making a hiring decision.[3]

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You can bone up on these skills and increase your chances of promotion by taking courses or seminars.

And you don’t necessarily need to request funding from your supervisor, either. There are dozens of online courses being presented by entrepreneurs and authors about these very subjects. Udemy and Creative Live both feature online courses at very reasonable prices. And some come with completion certificates for your portfolio!

Another way to improve your soft skills is by connecting with an employee at your organization who has the position you are seeking.

Express your desire to move up in the organization, and ask to shadow that person or see if you can sit in on some of her meetings. Offer to take that individual out for coffee and ask what her secret is! Take copious notes and then immerse yourself in the learning.

The key here is not to copy your new mentor (think Jennifer Jason Leigh in “Single White Female.” Just kidding). Rather, you want to observe, learn and then adapt according to your strengths. And don’t forget to thank that person for their time.

4. Develop Your Strategy

Do you even know specifically WHY you want to be promoted anyway? Do you see a future at this company? Do you have a one year, five year, or ten year plan? How often do you consider your “why” and insure that it aligns with your “what?”

Sit down and do an old-fashioned Pro and Con list. Two columns:

Pro’s on one side, Con’s on the other.

Write down every positive aspect of your current job and then every negative one. Which list is longer? Are there any themes present?

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Look at your lists and choose the most exciting Pro’s and the most frustrating Con’s. Do those two Pro’s make the Con’s worth it? If you can’t answer that question with a “yes” then getting promoted at your current organization may not be what you really want.

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. –Mark Twain

Mel Carson writes about this on Goalcast that many other authors and speakers have written about finding your professional purpose.[4]

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Why is it that you do what you do?
  • What thrills you about your current job role or career?
  • What does a great day look like?
  • What does success look like beyond the paycheck?
  • What does real success feel like for you?
  • How do you want to feel about your impact on the world when you retire?

These questions would be great to reflect on in a journal or with your supervisor in your next one-on-one meeting. Or, bring it up with one of your Vital Work Friends over coffee.

See, what you might find is that being stuck is your choice. And you can set yourself on the path of moving up where you are, or moving on to something different.

Because sometimes the real promotion is finding your life’s purpose. And like Mastercard says, that’s Priceless.

More Resources About Career Advancement

Featured photo credit: Razvan Chisu via unsplash.com

Reference

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