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REAL Values: LEAD
Everyone has the capacity to be a leader!
Monday Master Class
This post is the fourth of four, discussing what it means to LEAD. If you haven’t done so yet, I encourage you to read the first three posts in this series, covering the topics of RESPECT, ENGAGE, and ACCEPT. These are the foundational values for the REAL Values Project and they form the basis for my approach to becoming a Relaxed Leader. It’s definitely worth your time to read all of these posts.
A little background:
As a Relaxed Leader, I wanted a broadly applicable way to effectively approach every situation and better assess any potential solution. So I created a simple set of REAL values to measure our choices and actions against. REAL stands for Respect, Engage, Accept, and Lead. It’s a framework that’s easy to learn and implement in our daily lives, but the impact can be absolutely profound.
However… before I dive in, here is a brief explanation for those of you in a hurry.
LEAD is a word that brings up different images for different people, though most of them are related to being out front and taking charge of the situation. But being the boss doesn’t mean you’re a leader, nor does being a leader mean that you’re the one “in charge.” In the broadest sense, to lead means to help yourself and others do the right things – and being a Relaxed Leader means “the right things” are about improving in ways that benefit as many people as possible.
Merriam-Webster offers several definitions of the verb “lead,” including “to guide on a way especially by going in advance; to direct on a course or in a direction; to serve as a channel for; to direct the operations, activity, or performance of; and to have charge of.” All of these seem to imply that same “out front and in charge” idea but none of them are sufficient to define the value for a Relaxed Leader.
LEAD can be all of those things, some of those things, or quieter and more humble versions of those things. It will mean something different for different people because everyone has the potential and capacity to be some form of a Relaxed Leader!
Business consultants will tell you that a leader is someone who develops a clear vision, sets the related goals, and maps out the tactical steps to reach those goals... or something along those lines. They see leadership as solely about mapping the path to “victory” for the team or organization, and they paint it as having the ability to create excitement and inspire the best performance in others.
There are many Relaxed Leaders who fit that description but let’s not limit our definition and understanding to the person “up front” – either at the head of the conference room table, on the mic, leading the charge, or somehow pointing the way and giving orders for everyone else to follow. Charismatic leaders can do wonderful and highly visible things but you don’t have to create a cult of personality in order to lead and drive change efforts.
Absolutely zero significant programs or movements have been successful solely because of a single leader. They have ALL been successful because of the efforts – and leadership – of people toiling away in relative obscurity at all levels of the organization. Leadership is not just about the actions and attitudes of a single person at the top of the org chart or at the front of the room, even though you’re definitely better off having a truly Relaxed Leader in those positions. Leadership absolutely must happen – in ways both big and small – throughout everything else a group, organization, or company does.
A story from my past:
When I was a foreman on the factory floor, my supervisor never talked to me about leadership. I was told what to do, what parts to run, and how many we needed to produce. I was simply expected to be “the boss” and make sure the folks on the line did what they were supposed to do. I had no organizational authority beyond the 50’ by 50’ manufacturing cell I oversaw.
Yet even back then, I was becoming a Relaxed Leader. I showed respect to the people who reported to me. I engaged with them and their union reps. I accepted them as human beings and started from that foundation. It wasn’t easy – but I kept at it. I discovered that my worst employee was a drug addict, but instead of disciplining him, I showed him how to get help – and he ended up being one of my best employees. I went toe-to-toe with people when I thought they were wrong but I backed them when I agreed with them. I had some truly frustrating, horrible days, but slowly we made progress. After 9 months of working in that area – an area I had been told was the worst in the factory – we were hitting our production numbers almost every day.
When I announced that I had accepted a job at a different factory and would be leaving... they threw a going away party for me! This little motley crew of mine chipped in and had it catered too. I was touched but the other supervisors were absolutely blown away. One old timer told me, “I’ve seen all kinds of supervisors cover that crew and the most they ever did was give one guy a card when he had enough of them and retired. I never thought I’d see them throw a party like this for anyone! I’m impressed.” Even a young 20-something foreman can have an impact on the people around him.
Lead where you are:
Even when I’ve had roles where the only person I supervised was myself in a cubicle, I have still been able to find ways to lead. You can do the same. Reach out to others and engage with them respectfully. Help where you can. Share knowledge. Offer opinions where appropriate, but then build strong relationships so they’ll accept constructive feedback.
If your group or organization has a clear vision that you can get behind, then do it. Understand the vision and then determine how you can best support it. Set goals and then decide on the strategies and tactics you’ll use to reach those goals. And if coworkers will listen, share what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how you plan on accomplishing your goals. Lead by example. Lead by sharing knowledge. Lead by offering support, encouragement, and even a helping hand.
Some leadership variations:
As I mentioned, the dictionary offers several definitions of the verb “lead,” and one is “to direct on a course or in a direction.” If you think about this, it’s not just about having the organizational authority to tell people what to do or where to go. If you operate from a foundation of REAL values, then you will build relational authority with those around you. They will respect you and value your opinions, and may even imitate your approach to the mission work. The old saying about “following your lead” is exactly this: Demonstrate what to do and how to do it, and they’ll do the same because they know, like, and trust you.
Another dictionary definition to consider is “to serve as a channel for,” as in “the ditch leads water to the storm drain.” This is a form of leadership that almost anyone can use, regardless of where you are in the organization! I have had positions where I managed a process but had not organizational authority to change or try to improve the process. However, I could do things to make it EASIER to do something a particular way, then I could drive improvements and efficiencies. If I could make a preferred but less efficient way more difficult and ensure the truly efficient way was the path of least resistance, then I could lead people to change for the better. It didn’t take power or authority; I simply needed to figure out how to channel things properly.
Focus on making progress:
Being a Relaxed Leader means that you are striving for progress in order to improve things for as many people as possible. And as I discussed in The Relaxed Leader Podcast Episode 4: Hocus Focus, it also means having clear goals and setting priorities effectively. If we don’t do that, we run the very real risk of following a clear path to a lesser goal. We chase the next shiny object that’s close at hand and never really move towards our larger goals.
People will notice it when you aren’t focused on clearly defined goals. They will also notice if you talk a good game – share clear, inspirational goals – and then prioritize poorly, chasing your “lesser goal” du jour. Whether you have positional authority in the organization or not, people will notice. Think about your own experience observing others. You can probably recall someone who talked a lot and accomplished little. I’d also bet you can think of someone who just got shit done. Relaxed Leaders are better off being the latter of the two!
The bottom line:
Relaxed Leaders understand that leadership comes in many forms, and all shapes and sizes. Everyone – and I mean every single person – has the capacity and potential to lead somehow. Some may be brilliant orators, inspiring crowds and leading from the front. Some may suffer from a mental or cognitive disability, yet they show us the way to be kind while persevering through anything life throws at them. Some will coach and mentor, helping others become the best versions of themselves. Some will be quiet and unassuming, while demonstrating to coworkers what can be done to improve. And Relaxed Leaders can be found everywhere in between.
In order to be a Relaxed Leader, you need to start from a place of RESPECT, ENGAGE with others and with the world around you, ACCEPT other people, and then realize you really can LEAD from wherever you are!