“Those who think they lead and have no one who follow are merely taking a walk.”
This leadership proverb has shaped the way I have viewed leadership since the first time I read it over three years ago. It defines my daily actions, communications, decision-making and most importantly, how I lead and observe the leaders and teams I am so humbled to coach and work alongside. I have learned the hard way that the true measure of leadership is influence, nothing more and nothing less.
Think about those who have influence over you. Why do you follow them? It is most likely not because of power or position. It is because of how they make you feel – their character, their ability to build relationships, communicate, and provide a clear vision.
Power is not a position
Power is the ability to motivate others to believe in and support your vision. I remember how my first 90 days as a school principal completely went against this leadership law. I started right after the Christmas break. I was not interviewed by the staff and I really did not know any of the fifteen teachers except for one. The advice I had been given was to not go in and change things – simply observe and assess. So like a good follower to my mentor that is what I did. This strategy nearly broke me. The one piece of advice that I truly needed was to make sure I dedicated the time needed to build relationships with those who had influence and power within the school. My faulty assumption was that among colleagues we automatically share the same work ethic and goals and therefore, we are all on the same side. However, I soon learned that I did not value what my staff valued. I was naive and came across as a corporate outsider – not a member of the team. I cannot blame them. I was hired after a conversation and a handshake and I really was not that good.
Since I did not understand how to build these key relationships, I lost 40% of my staff at the end of year one. It was at 80% by year two. We lost valuable content teachers because I could not manage to build a solid ground for them to follow me.
I was taking a very lonely walk.
Reflection: Think about those who have the most influence over you. What is it about them that draws you to follow them? Write these characteristics down. Now, evaluate your own skill level in those areas. Do you see a gap?
The Errors Leaders Make
As a certified leadership coach and trainer, I have the privilege to learn under leadership expert John Maxwell. In his 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership John identifies five myths to leadership that leaders commonly believe..See which ones you have thought as true.
Positional Myth: People think because they have a title or letters after their name, they are a leader. I see this in many schools that we work with when suddenly a good teacher in the school is named the instructional coach. This can be a devastating decision to both the school leader and the newly appointed coach.
Knowledge Myth: Just because someone has knowledge does not mean they know how to lead. Many of the smartest individuals I know have the worst communication and relationship-building skills. Think about it – if knowledge equated leadership, you would have loved every single one of your college professors.
Management Myth: Managers do not make very good leaders. However, in order to lead well you need to be an effective manager. Managers focus on systems and leaders focus on people. Managers use tactics to motivate. Leaders inspire people. Which one are you?
Pioneer Myth: Being first does not always make you an effective leader. Remember these first initiatives? Napster, MySpace, two-way pagers. What did these companies fail to do in order to sustain their initial success like their successors?
Entrepreneur Myth: This might be the hardest for you to understand, but let me tell you, if you founded a charter school, you are an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are difficult to lead.They do not like having a boss; they do not always know how to make strong teams; they love to work alone. Sound familiar? I am one and I fight this myth every day!
Time to improve
Firstly, to grow your influence make a concerted effort each day to add value to one member of your team. You must get off of your own agenda and begin to intentionally think about those who are in your charge. Secondly, you need to make time once a month to coach and grow your top 20% team members. These are the individuals who are humble, hungry and smart with a huge learning capacity. Last, and the most important, meet with everyone in the organization informally at least twice a year. Ask them about their goals and aspirations in the organization. Where do they see themselves in two to three years time? Create opportunities to allow them to reach their goals within your organization. If you do not do this, they will find a place to accomplish these dreams elsewhere.
Self Development Exercise: Rate yourself on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high) for each of these seven characteristics of an effective person of influence.
Character – Who you are.
Relationships- Who you know.
Knowledge – What you know.
Intuition – What you feel.
Experience – Where you have been.
Past Success – What you have done.
Ability – What can you do.
When you are finished, have at least two colleagues rate you. How are their scores similar or different? Create a plan to develop those characteristics which had an average score of under seven.
All of my best, Tom