Updated: Jan 27, 2021
Whether it is in the boardroom, the film room, or at the kitchen table, we have all been around leaders who have flat out inspired us. The type of leader who leaves you feeling energized and filled with belief as you start mentally preparing for whatever challenge is coming. What if I was to argue that this is not the root of leadership? What if I were to tell you that the leader who just gave you goosebumps actually earned that emotional response through repetition and commitment to a process? What if I told you that you too could lead in that way? Over the next five weeks, Edge Leadership Academy will be posting a weekly blog outlining our “Five C’s” of leadership (Character, Consistency, Commitment, Communication, & Creativity). Consider this your acceptance letter to Leadership 101 syllabus week.
Let’s start by defining what a leader is. Oxford defines it as a “the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country” This definition leaves much to be desired, as the best leaders use the word not as a noun, but as a verb. The leaders we aim to emulate are those who treat the use of the word as a noun as something that is earned through consistent action. Some of you are saying, “Kitch, I worked for 10 years to get this title. I deserve to be here and be respected.” That’s great and I commend your effort, but I would argue you lack a full understanding of what it even was you were chasing for those 10 years.
We must break leadership down into its parts for a better understanding of the prerequisites to lead. We’ll start with character. Ralph Waldo Emerson illustrated this perfectly in his quote; “Who you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” Simply put, character is the combination of your vision, mission, and values (VMV) that guides your daily behaviors. If you are in a leadership role, your VMV better align with your actions or you will have a hard time leading anyone. Additionally, the VMV of great leaders rarely include much emphasis on their own gain; it’s about something bigger than them. I will post a follow up blog on how to construct your own VMV statement and use it as a roadmap for decision making.
Leaders must operate under the understanding that the spotlight is always on. A mentor of mine used to say we must act as though the camera is always recording. Does this scare you? It shouldn’t…. if you’ve done the work on yourself to build a character that is rooted in principles and values. Your core values will be reflected in your actions both consciously and subconsciously. Those values should put a healthy pressure on you to earn your leadership position daily. Every day should be viewed as an opportunity to prove through consistent acts of high character that your followers are right for putting their trust in you. Remember, most of your followers are looking to be proved right. This means opportunities will be available to do so; if you are willing to keep their interests ahead of your own. To be a leader you must first be a person worth following.
I take this principle very seriously, as I believe leadership is a responsibility. You are responsible for the people you are leading. In some capacity, those people have bet on you. Your role may be to lead the company through a global pandemic, lead the family through cyber-schooling while being furloughed, or lead your team back from a 28-3 deficit late in the game. In all those situations, your followers placed their money on you to win. This means you owe it to them to operate with their best interests in mind. But, but, but “I worked my ass off for this”. Good. Now, work your ass off for them, because the minute you become a leader nothing is about you anymore. Leaders’ first reaction must be to jump on the grenade when the timer hits zero and all options are exhausted. More importantly, they should take great pride in their team succeeding with little or no recognition going to them. As Jocko Willink put it so elegantly, “there are no bad teams, only bad leaders”.
One of the key components of character is self-awareness. It is impossible to become the leader or person you want to be if you cannot acknowledge your blind spots. This means being open to feedback, discerning what is valuable, and doing the work on yourself. This is not a pretty process, but great leaders will tell you they’re committed to their own growth regardless of the uncomfortable feelings they may have to endure. Below is a quick and dirty self-assessment you can take to figure out if you’re headed in the right direction.
Leadership Reflection Questions: Character
1. Do I know my personal mission, vision, and values?
2. Are my actions aligned with those values?
3. Would I want someone I care about to follow someone like me?
4. Would I be proud to hear what my followers think of me?
5. When’s the last time I did something for someone who could do nothing for me?
6. How often do I request feedback from my peers? From friends/family? From subordinates?
7. What is my response when I hear feedback that doesn’t agree with my ego? Anger, blame, defend, etc.?
8. What is one negative experience that shows up in my actions or behavior patterns?
9. How do I plan on correcting this?
10. What am I most afraid of?
There are no right or wrong answers, this is just a tool to get the self-awareness process jump started. If you’re unhappy with your current results, form a plan and execute! If you think you’re already there, go back to question one and take the survey again. This time be honest with yourself. Character is not an end goal; it is an evolving and ongoing process that will be reflected in your relationships. Leaders are built, not born.