I recently celebrated my 47th birthday, or another way to frame it is that I am halfway to 94. As I reflect, I think a lot about leadership. I spent the last 28 years of my life in the U.S. Army, mostly in leadership positions or an instructor position developing future leaders. It is something I am passionate about, and I continue the work to this day.
Context is important in any leadership discussion, meaning different situations place different requirements on leaders and therefore require a different type of leadership style to address the situation. The principles I share below are what I have found to be applicable across contexts and across the spectrum of industries and professions. They have helped guide me in challenging situations. Leaders develop from experience, and it is important for leaders to come up with their own personal leadership principles in their practice of leadership.
First, I feel it would be helpful to define Leadership for the purposes of establishing a common definition:
- Leadership is a process
- Leadership involves influence
- Leadership occurs in groups
- Leadership involves common goals
Definition: Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal. Source: Leadership Theory and Practice, Sixth Edition
How you influence matters. The principles below focus on the social aspect of leadership and how team members experience a leader’s example and leadership.
1. Your example is always on display: Every interaction you have with a team member in your organization or outside of your organization will either have a positive or negative impact. There is no neutral.
2. Know yourself and know your impact on others: They have to live with your leadership. How do you think they experience it? Know your strengths and areas that need development. Understand what frustrates you and what doesn’t. Every leader has a derailer; no one is perfectly composed all the time. A derailer can be anything that tests your self-control and causes you to lose focus. Understand what your derailers are so you can work on measures to counter them with a coach, peer, supervisor, or mentor. The most mature and composed leaders have an understanding of themselves, their impact on others, and their derailers.
3. Have Purpose: Your purpose as a leader is to create purpose. That is the “Why”, the reason your team is doing what you have directed them to do. In combat, my soldiers knew their purpose and how what they were doing fit into the big picture. That empowered them to lead in their area and allowed me to focus on the things I needed to be focused on.
When team members have a purpose and are inspired, they will get back up after taking a hit and keep fighting. They won’t be overwhelmed by failure and will see it merely as a temporary obstacle they will need to adapt to and bypass. Purpose can build resilience because there is an understanding that you have a role and others are counting on you.
4. Keep a learning mindset: Leaders with fixed mindsets don’t learn, and they become irrelevant in challenging and complex environments. Leaders with learning mindsets lead with humility. They are always looking for ways to learn from experiences, the environment, the people they lead, their peers, and their superiors. They pursue self-study, because formal education and job training programs cannot prepare them for every challenge they will face. Leaders with learner mindsets don’t accept the status quo and look for ways to improve in order to succeed and win. If you aren’t learning, you aren’t leading.
5. Build Relationships: As I mentioned previously, the basic definition of Leadership is to influence others to accomplish a goal. The ability to influence is based on trust between a leader and team member and is the foundation of all relationships.
Leaders have to know and understand those they lead. This will build trust with them, and in my experiences, when it is time to execute operations, things tend to move smoother if the leader and team members of the organization have relationships built on trust. An organization’s ability to adapt rapidly to changing circumstances depends on competent, adaptable, trustworthy leaders.
After reading this, I challenge the reader to think about “How are those I lead experiencing my leadership?” Reflecting on this question can lead to new self-awareness and the beginning of a learning and change process to becoming a better, higher performing, trustworthy leader.
If you have not developed your leadership principles, coaching can help you do the deep dive to gain self-awareness and discover those principles you value and lead by. If you would like more information about how, please contact us at OPD@unthsc.edu.
– Jonathan Silk