When I talk about leadership in my seminars, so many people in the audience think about leaders and leadership as being limited to the top level of an organization—highly-paid executives making big decisions.
That’s part of it, of course. But I’m more interested in a broader look at leaders and leadership, the kind that says you can be a leader from any position in any organization. In this sense it’s about attitude and responsibility rather than position power.
I came across a graphic once called Leadership Excellence, listing ten categories of excellence:
- Coaching (giving feedback)
- Coaching (development)
- Courage and risk
- Innovation and change
- Tone setting
- Decision making
- Relationships and power
- Planning and vision
I looked through this list thinking about my experiences, actions, behaviors, and attitudes. I thought about the various jobs I’ve had, when I was good at these leadership competencies and when I wasn’t so great.
Then I looked at the list again and asked myself the following question: “Which of these leadership competencies apply to my life outside work?”
The answer, of course, is all of them.
Think about your life at home, your interactions with your spouse, partner, kids, and neighbors. Think about resolving conflict and giving and taking criticism. You could even think about applying them to taking a vacation. These competencies show up all the time in all aspects of our lives.
And then I thought about the relationship between the quality of my leadership at work and the quality of my leadership in my personal life. Not surprisingly, there was a direct relationship between the two: when my personal life suffered, my attitude at work wasn’t so great.
The roots of your leadership style come from within you and are developed well before you assume a leadership position.
Want to know what kind of leader you will be at work? Take a look at yourself outside of work.
Warren Bennis, the legendary scholar on leadership, said, “Leaders must know themselves thoroughly before they can hope to lead others.”
- What are your values? What do you stand for?
- Do you take 100% responsibility for your own life?
- Are you more interested in controlling people or collaborating with people?
- Do you have the courage to take risks or do you stay safe so you don’t make any mistakes?
- Do you have a healthy communication style or do you bully people to get your way?
- Do you hold grudges, focus on the negative, and blame others for your faults?
Leadership starts with you. Your leadership style and success interacting with others is a direct reflection of what’s going on inside you.
In the biggest-selling leadership book of all time, The Leadership Challenge, authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner conclude with a wonderful quote that speaks to the heart of leadership.
“The instrument of leadership,” they write, “is the self, and mastery of the art of leadership comes from mastery of the self. It’s about leading out of what is already in your soul. It’s about liberating the leader within you. It’s about setting yourself free.”
Focus on yourself as the first step in becoming a leader.