Are you a leader?
Only 10% of people in a company will answer yes to this question. But what if you were to consider a different question? Do you identify with any of the following characteristics?
Flexible and adaptive
Kind and compassionate
The majority of people would say yes to at least one of these. It may surprise you that many business magazines report these exact characteristics as the ones that will be required of leaders, both now, and in the next decade.
So, we are all leaders. Because every time you face an obstacle, and you’re flexible, adaptive, and can find your way around it, you're leading. Every time you think differently in a meeting and you have the courage to say, "How about we do it this way?”, when everyone else is saying, "this is the way we've always done things," you are leading. Every time you come to work and do or say something that turns around someone’s day, then again, you're leading.
When you inspire others to bring more or to make a change, you are definitely leading. When you are curious, wanting to learn and grow, you are being a leader. For all of us we have the possibility of leading, every single day. And we should all be leading, every single day. This is not to say that there shouldn’t be times when we are following also. It’s a dynamic dance: sometimes we're leading and sometimes we're following. And it’s very rare that, at any given time, you have only one leader. There are people that you look to, for certain things, and others you admire for something else.
When you think about all of the worldwide trends right now (and it's really important to look into the future), consider the change your industry will face in the next five years. It will be more than it's undergone in the last 30 years. We are living in a time of such fast changing, dynamic complex situations, and the one thing that we know about leadership trends, is that the old ways aren't going to open the new doors.
For many organisations, they are facing white-water rapids of change, and expecting to navigate it in massive ocean liners, where there’s one person commanding at the top - the officer in charge. It’s a slow ship, that isn’t going to cope with the changing business environment of the future. It’s not coping now.
What the world really needs is everyone to be stepping up and showing leadership. One of the reasons why people don’t answer yes to “are you a leader?”, or why some of us don't step up every day to be leaders, is because we think leadership is about that hierarchy - the chosen few who are the “special ones”. You get the badge, you get ordained with this position, but what we know is that the poorest performing companies are the ones where leadership is centralised around some specialist, the chosen few. These outdated structures are now being broken down, everywhere, around the world. Right now, leaders in the world are coming from the most unlikely sources. In America, right as we speak, the people that are leading social reform, are primary school kids. In Australia when we look at the groups that are holding the most power and influence, it's the volunteering industry. They bring more to the Australian economy than the mining sector.
All of these people, from the most unlikely sources, are stepping up and leading, and you don't have to be in a position of authority to be doing it. In organisations it’s not necessarily the hierarchy that are inspiring change. Most of the breakthrough ideas in Google for example, aren’t coming from the person at the top, or anyone in a position of leadership. Their most profitable products were always, the ideas from the people working on the ground floor.
And so, these notions that leadership belong to a set few, really need to change if we're going to keep up with the change that's happening outside, in the world, and in the business environment. What it means is that we all need to develop a new leadership identity.
When asked, “are you a leader?”, you may not be putting your hand up because you think the title belongs to a position, but what we need to identify more with, is having certain leadership characteristics. That's the leadership identity that we need to develop, but there is so much unconscious bias around what we see as a leader.
For example, if a Manager notices that team morale is dropping and organises a team lunch, people might think
"That’s leadership! He or she values people and is a really great leader.”
But then, if you had the same situation where one of the team initiates the exact same action, people would see it in a different light. “She/he is just social” Even though it is the exact same act that's achieving the exact same outcome. It's bringing team warmth, team building and bonding.
What we need to start doing is to recognise that all these actions that improve culture or teamwork, are in fact, leadership. We need to be calling leadership out, both in ourselves, and also in other people, and redefine what this leadership identity actually is.
Everyone has leadership potential, but most of the time, studies reveal that people in the hierarchy are waiting for people to put their hand up and say, "I'd like to do something different. I'd like to lead. I'd like to do more," But most of the time the people in a business are waiting to get the tap on the shoulder to step up. What we need to do is give ourselves permission to actually lead, in some way, and not be waiting to get the tap, not be waiting to get the position or move up in the hierarchy. But to look at how can we be showing leadership. And it is about personal leadership every single day.
This is the thing that's going to be absolutely critical for your career going forward. Don't wait for the badge to be given to you. Go out and buy your own badge, and it needs to say this: "I'll go first."
Essentially, that's what a leader’s job is about. It's not about being in a position as a boss. It's about having the courage to put your hand up and say, "I'll go first." Every time you decide to go first, that is leadership. For example, in a meeting where you might say, "I think we could be getting more value from this meeting," and instantly everyone else chimes in and says "Yes, me too, I'm finding we're not getting as much out of that." That’s leadership! It always takes someone to go first because it gives permission and it opens up an avenue for everyone else to follow. It does take courage to be the one that is going to go first. Whether you are going first and calling out negative behaviour, going first and calling out bullying, going first and saying, "There could be another way of us thinking about this here," it’s not an easy thing to do. And that is essentially what it means to be a leader. It’s also about another component. It's about being more. Go First, Be More.
You see the human brain wants us to blend in. We have all heard of “group think”, where everyone thinks the same. All you need to do is get in an elevator to see how bizarre human behaviour is. Where we all get in there and look the same way, not speak to each other - there's just this whole code that happens when we get in an elevator. Try the experiment of getting in there and turning around and facing a different wall or striking up a conversation. You know how entrenched we are about certain things that we do. And a true leader is prepared to challenge the norms and bring more. They set the standard, they set the bar for where people can rise to. Because human emotions and behaviours are highly contagious. Unless someone is actually being intentional, human emotion and behaviour will fall to the lowest common denominator. It will do this unless there is someone saying, "No, we can be more. We can actually get to this level here” and really modelling that. And when that's done intentionally, the whole energy of the group rises to that level.
So, go first, be more. This is really being more of what we already are.
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about those things that matter." Martin Luther King Junior
We are all leaders. We all have something inside us that really matters and that can make a huge difference to both ourselves, our team and the world around us. Start leading today!