Leadership is a way of thinking, a way of acting and, most importantly, a way of communicating. ~ Simon Sinek
“I almost didn’t reach out to you,” she said. “If Sally hadn’t recommended you, I would have looked elsewhere.”
This was a new client. We were wrapping up our initial meeting and talking about the path forward in our work together.
I was a bit taken aback by her comment, and naturally asked what she meant.
“All your material — your LinkedIn profile, your website — emphasizes that you work with leaders. I’m not a leader. I don’t manage anyone.”
Leadership is a Verb
Leadership is a verb, not a noun. My new client had just spent the better part of our first hour together talking about her ability to spot connections among different issues and outlining solutions that her colleagues can buy in to.
Her leadership came from influencing actions and outcomes, not from her authority over people.
The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority. ~ Ken Blanchard
Leadership is not telling people what to do; it’s inspiring them to do what needs to be done. Authentic leaders motivate others to join them in a cause bigger than themselves and that works best through influence. Influence is the soul of leadership, addressing attitudes and awareness.
According to Curtis L. Odom, individuals who are influential, and who don’t possess authority have the following attributes,
- Knowledge that is valued by those in authority;
- Credibility built through actions, and working towards building a larger – mutually beneficial – goal;
- Integrity demonstrated by a set of core values that guide what they do.
Leadership is Inclusive
In their recent book, Radical Inclusion: What the Post-9/11 World Should Have Taught Us About Leadership, Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and peace studies professor, Ori Brafman note that most of the hard problems in business, communities, nationally and globally can be solved with better leadership. That although the world has changed, the way we think about leadership hasn’t kept pace.
They note that information passes among individuals more quickly than ever before and in the process becomes disrupted — a “digital echo” — which reverberates across distributed networks. Inclusion is imperative in a world where verifying facts becomes increasingly difficult. There is a need to leverage inclusion to gain better information and effectively communicate the narrative we want heard.
Dempsey and Brafman note that the definition of a leader is broadening. Leaders tend to influence their communities, and anyone can be an influencer these days. Influencers broadly share the narrative they feel passionate about within their community, team, or organization.
Leadership Abhors A Vacuum
Many years ago at the beginning of my professional work life (notice the absence of the word “career”), I was a junior analyst with a small Washington, DC-based consulting firm. We focused on socio-economic work in the energy and transportation fields. Much of our work was funded by the federal government. In the early 1980s, there was a major shift in administrations and new federal projects emphasized defense work.
This became a major disruption to our firm. We went from having one of the best year’s in our history to scrambling for projects.
It was clear that our firm was in trouble. This set most of the senior consultants into a panic. Probably because we were younger and had less responsibilities, the junior staff took a whole different approach. We held cookout lunches on Fridays behind the office—burgers, hot dogs and chips. We figured there just wasn’t much we could do until things settled.
After a couple of weeks, the senior team wandered out and joined us and we shared our cookout fare with them. In the relaxed environment, a couple of bright junior folks shared some ideas about projects of interest to them with the senior staff, who encouraged the junior staff to draft proposals to potential funders.
I wish I could say that those proposals saved the firm. That didn’t happen. The firm dissolved within a year. Many of us found new jobs in other organizations. But two of those junior consultants formed their own firm, in part based on their ideas pitched at the cookout. They recently celebrated their 20th year in business.
How About You?
Can you take those attributes identified by Curtis Odom and apply them to yourself?
Do you possess valuable knowledge and credibility that you’ve demonstrated through your actions and are driven by core values?
Do you leverage and include critical information to inspire others to pursue a goal that’s bigger than any one person?
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