I first became a leader when I was twenty years of age. I was promoted to corporal, then sergeant, a non-commissioned officer of Marines, I was also a teacher of Asian martial arts, a detective lieutenant, chief of police, and now church pastor — 60+ years in jobs requiring me to lead, not just manage or supervise.
I found that to function effectively in each of these positions required me to lead — not boss. Unfortunately, none of them required training before taking the job. (That is why years later, I required training before leading.)
A person does not become a leader with a promotion or a pay raise. Most effective leaders start as bosses (using coercion to get work done) before they see it doesn’t work and then, through trial, error, and empathy, become leaders. If they don’t come to learn this, they never become a leader — who is , in fact, a leader who cares about the work lives of others.
Good leaders make mistakes as they evolve and go through a many life-changes and adjustments — it’s called learning.
Most manager models have little to do with leading others and are often not very helpful. Our cultural models are based on power and damage people. You know, the attitude “my way or the highway.”
Being a real leader is difficult to teach. It begins with selecting those who are inclined to serve, not coerce. Leadership is even more difficult to practice — that’s because leading involves serving the needs of those who actually do the work and a true concern for their growth.
During my career, I had the opportunity to learn and I finally changed my behavior. In order to do this, I had to deeply believe in and practice the following:
- Leaders are primarily in the business of growing and serving others. If a leader is not doing this, he or she is merely an organizational manager — or more bluntly, a “boss;” someone concerned about power, not people; about the bottom line and not the well-being and growth of those who actually do the work for which a leader is responsible.
- Leadership is serving others above self — and it is not easy in today’s work culture. It means giving up your personal power to serve others, not to threaten or coerce them. And being able to keep your boss off your back!
- Leaders desire to have members of their team be fair and respectful to their “customer/clients.” But to do so means those behaviors must first begin with leaders treating team members fairly and respectfully.
- Leaders must cast light in the darkness. They help others make work joyful and meaningful.
- Leaders always “walk their talk;” this is integrity. They model in their behavior what they wish others to be and do.
- Leaders deal with unacceptable behaviors promptly and fairly.
- Leaders are good questioners and generous listeners who give team members their full attention.
- Leaders cast a strong, exciting, empowering vision of the way ahead — a vision of where we, together, are going — who we wish to be.
- Leaders care about the people they are privileged to lead and encourage their best behaviors — those who work with real leaders know this. Just ask them!