Leadership is often misunderstood as the fancy title that immediately follows your name. Unfortunately, titles have little value in identifying leadership. Why, because leadership cannot be awarded through a promotion, or inherited because there is a vacancy or won because of a good interview; it must be earned.
I have worn many fancy titles in my career that declared, “I am now your leader, follow me!” I unconsciously assimilated that leadership was about telling others what to do. I was fed an institutionalized lie that everyone is a replaceable part and that my job is to focus on maintaining the system; the status quo.
The institution is wrong so I am wrong, and painfully so.
In later years, I was taught that leadership has little to do with telling others what to do. Leadership with all its layers of complexities is based on one simple reality -- influence.
Essentially, if you are unable to influence others you are no leader. Instead you are the boss, the overseer, the authority figure, or the top dog. Your subordinates follow you because they are paid to follow you. And because they are paid to follow you, they will also give you the least amount of effort.
Why, because people don’t like to follow people because they have to follow people.
This is in stark contrast to why team members follow a leader. When you are a leader, people follow you because they want to follow you. So what happened between being the boss and becoming a leader?
Well, simply put your team likes you. Why, because you have take the time to understand them as individuals:
- To understand their strengths.
- To understand how they perform.
- To understand how they learn.
- To understand what are their values.
- To understand how they can best contribute.
- To understand where in the team do they add the most value.
Why is understanding such an important verb, and let me be clear understanding is a verb, because its action. If you want to succeed as a leader then you must understand the actions you take to build relationships is foundational.
Why is the building of relationships foundational, because that gives you the permission to influence other people. Your influence will continue to swell when leaders focus on these three traits:
- Listen well. Because they know they are not the smartest person in the room.
- Observe well. Because they are calculating when to add more value.
- Learn well. Because they know they cannot help others until they learn how to help others.
Now when you are performing at this level you being to add value to the company you are working for. You might even start contributing to the bottom line and that forces others to take notice.
They might begin to ask intelligent questions like, “Why does his team lead so well?” or “How does his team continue to ship.” or “Why does his team continue to solve interesting problems?”
You see these questions need answers so other leaders within the organization begin to seek you out. For all intents and purposes you have now become their tour guide and momentum builds; because people do what people see.
Your success as a relational leader depends on the relationships you craft with others and the value you add to a problem. And the most important item to remember is that you don’t need a fancy title to be a leader, you simply need the want to serve.