On a recent trip to Washington DC, I sat down in my assigned seat while watching the other passengers file into the aisle of the plane looking for their seats. As the pilot started the engines of the plane and began to pull away from the terminal, one of the flight attendants began her pre-flight announcement regarding the safety procedures during the flight. While listening to her instructions I watched one of other attendants in the aisle near my seat as she acted out the words of the individual on the intercom. Through all of the interactive gestures and instructions, one struck me as most important, the mask that would drop during a sudden drop in cabin pressure. One statement resonated with me, "Place the mask on yourself first before helping someone else." I found this statement very interesting and related it to a foundational principle of leadership - before leading others, you must first lead yourself.
Before iron can be formed into something useful, it must first be heated from its original state, which softens the metal through a weakening process. Even then, it is difficult to mold and must be done so by the correct tools adequate of chipping, bending, and flattening iron. The master craftsman skillfully hammers the item until finally cooling it. The metal then regains its strength for use in a specialized craft. As leaders, many seek the position of leadership without first understanding the process of preparation. I teach management at a local university. In a given semester, I have students from a variety of backgrounds with a diverse set of career goals. I see many who believe they are ready to manage others when they have difficulty managing themselves. They can't get to class on time or always have an excuse of why their assignment is late. Their lack of planning keeps them in a reactionary mode where they are continually having to catch up. I'm quick to point out that this first law of effective management and leadership is to manage themselves. The title is the least of all importance. For it is the follower that provides you with the honor.
So, how do you prepare yourself to lead? How do you begin this equipping process? What are the key principles that you recognize as important to enhancing your leadership abilities?
Understanding that you know little and that leadership is a process is most important. I've worked with individuals who have been promoted as managers who have never made any preparation for the position. Leadership is a process with many steps. You must recognize that this is a lifelong process and commit to learning something every day about some topic of leadership. Be honest with yourself and make that commitment to work on you every day. Have a plan of development. You will make mistakes. You will miss the mark along the way. Seek a mentor to help you stay focused on specific items that will help you in these areas. Understand that this is something much larger than you. Recognize the stakes and take it serious. If not, step aside, for you will do much more damage than good.
Find your niche`:
When people hear your name, what if the first thing they think about you? As a CEO seeks to brand his or her company and/or product, you need to seek out and find your specific niche`. In other words, brand your leadership. You'll find this among your strengths. This is nature's gift to you. You already possess it but it's up to you to find it and build it. Create an expertise and don't try to be everything to everyone. Recognize your strengths and manage your weaknesses. Surround yourself with those who compliment and fill the gap your weaknesses create.
You can do this through a variety of methods.
1. Read as much as you can about successful leaders.
2. Seek information that highlights the successes of individuals who have survived
the test of leading.
3. Observe leaders through webinars, videos, and other means.
4. Get involved in associations dedicated to management and leadership principles and application.
In other words, be intentional in your process. Leadership is never easy. It is not for the faint of heart. Yet, it is most rewarding.
What are you doing to enhance your leadership abilities?
Do you have a plan?
What steps have you identified to help you move your leadership abilities to the next level?