In elementary school, teachers usually designate a “leader” who the class follows throughout the day whenever they leave the classroom to go to recess, the cafeteria and other daily activities. As a child, you follow the leader because you are told to do so. But in today’s workplace, the idea that your staff or members will follow the leader simply because they’re told to do so is not the reality.
True leaders don’t always come with an official title. But true leaders still gain and keep followers, and together they propel the goals and objectives of your team or organization, whether those goals are to drive revenue, grow membership, increase profits or something else. True leaders also earn buy-in from all involved – staff, members and stakeholders – by showing vulnerability, making an investment in resources and people, and using personal influence for good.
Vulnerability strengthens your ability to relate
As a leader, you have to understand that being vulnerable is not a weakness. This characteristic makes you relatable and approachable. People want to build relationships with other people. However, some leaders by title alienate themselves by not connecting with others.
How do you become vulnerable without crossing personal or professional lines? Listen. True leaders take the time to listen to those around them because they know it puts them in a position to understand where a person is coming from and give sound advice. You become vulnerable when you empathize with someone else and that, in turn, strengthens your ability to relate to that person. It shows others that even if you haven’t experienced what they are going through, you’ll never dismiss their feelings or concerns. Listening demonstrates that as a leader, you’re willing to be there with them to help them with whatever they are going through with the end goal of navigating them back to the path to grow your team and accomplish your goal. Leaders have an innate ability to make others feel stronger in uncomfortable situations, and the first step to getting there is to listen.
Investing in your team
True leaders understand that the most important investment you can make is in people. They know that giving their teams the resources and support they need makes sure that everyone has the opportunity to succeed. To keep my team at Naylor invested in each other and in our work, I’ve shown them that I’m not afraid to be in the trenches with them in order for us to accomplish our shared goals. Some may see my investment in our team’s day-to-day obstacles as a sacrifice, but I’ve found it is the best way to understand the challenges we face and invest in the team’s success.
A word of caution: Don’t fall into the mentality of “That’s not my job.” Your organization’s success is everyone’s goal, which makes it everyone’s job to help get there. Investing in your people may not necessarily be part of your job description, but it is a choice that true leaders make every day. It also allows you to hold your team to a higher standard. Building honesty, trust and credibility in my relationships has allowed me to hold my team accountable for the things I need from them.
Great leaders invest and build trust within their own teams, but also across departments and with customers. In The Servant, author James Hunter says, “Leadership is about getting things done through people. There will always be two dynamics involved: the task and the relationship.” To be able to build relationships while finishing a task at hand is the definition of leadership. Never forget that you have a job to do, but know that in order to finish that job successfully, you’re going to need the people around you willing to give it their all.
Position power vs. people power
In my sales organization, one part of my leadership role is as group publisher to a team of veteran sales professionals. I joke sometimes that sales is as much a part of my daily job as theirs. Working in inside sales is a tough job – even for those professionals who have done it for years. As a sales leader, I’m constantly battling the repercussions of rejection. How can I motivate a team that is told “no” more than “yes”? I am able to lead because I have personal relationships – I call it “people power” – as well as a title that gives me “position power.”
True leaders balance position and people power. They understand their title gives them authority, but they do not abuse it. They listen well, they solicit feedback from their team when making decisions, and are not afraid to make the tough decisions. Hunter explains that power is the “ability to force or coerce someone to do your will, even if they would choose not to, because of your position or your might. Authority is the skill of getting people to willingly do your will because of your personal influence.” True leaders balance given power and earned authority. Sometimes you may have to use your power to get things done, but because of your authority you’re able to motivate and empower your team to get the task done with minimal disruption.
Follow the leader
Business leaders are not born; they evolve and grow over time through experience, challenges and triumphs. The lasting legacy of a leader is determined by their followers, team members and bought-in believers who fight to achieve the goals and objectives that move their organization forward long after the leader has changed titles, left the company or organization, and shifted their power to the next generation.