Once upon a time, I was one of the best Processors in the department. My quality was outstanding and my production numbers were consistently high. I had great customer service skills and I had near perfect attendance. I volunteered to take on extra work and willingly worked overtime whenever it was needed. I was a team-player and a darn good employee!
Then one day, my Boss called me in. I was not concerned, as I had done nothing wrong; I was more curious than anything else. When he told me he wanted me to be the new Supervisor, I was floored! Me? A boss? Nope, I don’t think so! My friend and co-worker, Patti, had been there longer and she should be the next one in line for a promotion. I don’t know the first thing about being a boss. I’m a good worker and that’s probably what I should keep doing. Give the job to Patti, she is the next in line.
His reply: You are the one I want; you have what I am looking for; you will be a great Leader one day; there is something more that you have to give and I want you to begin here.
That was pretty much it! He had spoken and as a young 20-something, I didn’t question it again. It’s important to note here that this was many years ago and while times have changed, and 20-something’s might now question or challenge the boss, that is not something we did ‘back in the day’!
Now, to tell Patti and Holly and Sue and my other dear friends who were soon to be reporting to me! I believe this is where I really began to understand the essentials of leadership: humility, clarity and courage.
Humility, in my experience, is the ‘secret sauce’ of leadership. Leaders do not and cannot know everything. And to understand that is one of the keys to leading. Humility enables the leader to listen, seek to understand, to reflect and be unpretentious. One of my favorite mantras in my early (and later) days of leadership is this: “There go my people, I must hurry to catch up with them for I am their leader.” — Mahatma Gandhi It is not only okay to not have all the answers, I believe it is essential! One cannot learn and grow if she thinks she already knows it all. This leads me to the next point: clarity.
Have you ever driven in the fog? That is what comes to mind for me when things are not clear. If leaders are not clear in their message and if the words are not consistent with the actions, followers are left to wander aimlessly in the fog! Mind-reading is not a skill most people have, and people want to know what is going on – or they will likely make-up and surmise and then we can really get into trouble! “Clarity affords focus.” — Thomas Leonard Leadership is about being very clear about the vision and mission. Becoming clear (and consistent) in words and actions gives foundation to the followers; it builds trust; it gives direction and clears away the uncertainly. And many times, it is not easy to be clear. Sometimes, this means the leader must deliver a tough message, or make an unpopular decision.
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” — Winston Churchill I delight in the words of Churchill! Read them again…Do you see the wisdom in this quote? Sometimes, we do not see the courage in leaders who sit down and listen, yet, this circles directly back to my previous points of humility and clarity. As a leader, I often found it challenging to sit and listen, particularly when I was certain I had the right answer or action. Often, my opinion changed; often it did not. Nevertheless, once a leader truly listens with the intention to understand, she can then (courageously) stand and speak clearly upon the topic or decision.
Talking to Patti, Holly, Sue and the others was not always ‘easy’. There were times I had to deliver news that was less than welcome. They were an incredible group of co-workers and fully supported my Boss’s decision to promote me. I was so fortunate to have my first leadership experience with them as they laid the ground work for what was to come for me – 30 more years leading teams.
Whether you are a leader with the title or not, you are the leader of your destiny; of your life; of your success and happiness. Do it with humility – accepting that you are still learning; with clarity -seeing and staying in focus; with courage – to stand as well as to sit.
Embed these ‘essentials’ in who you are and how you are being. I promise, you will experience fulfillment you could not have imagined.