An important part of my daily routine is to schedule time to read. Funnily enough, I have never really been an avid reader, but being intentional about it in the last couple of years has made me realize how important reading is for a leader’s development. It has become an activity that I look forward to doing. In fact, I have 3 books on the go as I write this blog post. Never in a million years would I have thought that I would be reading 3 books at the same time!
One of the books that I am currently reading, Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull, has me reflecting on what real leadership is all about. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend you add it to your list.
Although I am only about half-way through, these two passages really rang true for me:
“…it is the focus on people – their work habits, their talents, their values – that is absolutely central to any creative venture.”
“We should trust in people, I told them, not processes.”
I couldn’t agree more. Leadership is about helping others to be the best version of themselves. Its about relationships, trust, honesty and integrity, communication and awareness. Its also about investing in yourself so that you can add value to others. We can have in place the best, most efficient processes in the world, but if a leader is not about people, we will never yield maximum results. We will never reach our highest peaks. As Colin Powell once put it:
How many times have you heard someone (or yourself) proclaim that so-and-so is a real leader? Something along the lines of: “Yeah, that Beth of ours is a REAL leader!”, at the same time nodding their head, or even shaking a fist, with an “I am impressed” expression on their faces. I bet you are even imagining it right now!
So what is a REAL leader all about? Although we can probably think of hundreds of reasons that make a leader “real”, I thought I would turn the word into an acronym to help focus my reflection on a few key elements:
REAL: Resourceful Engaging Aspiring Listens
“R” is for Resourceful
People often go to their leader for guidance. They may have a question or a challenge that they need to overcome, and are not quite sure just how to go about doing it. So it becomes crucial for the leader to find ways to help that person uncover an answer to their question or a solution to their problem, thus achieving their goal. Remember, as a leader, one of our objectives is to build capacity, so that others may develop their skills at solving problems, and become resourceful as well.
One way I manage to stay resourceful is by reading, but not only books and articles in my field of expertise (education). I try to diversify what I read, and that gives me different perspectives that I would not have considered had I stuck to just litterature about education. Harry Truman once said:
“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”
How true is this statement!
“E” is for Engaging
I attribute a lot of my success to being authentic with people. I know I value people that are authentic with me. There is no other way to go. If I was not authentic, I would feel like I was trying to be someone that I am not. And that would make me feel phony. Engaging authentically with people is an important part of building trust. And when we have trust between each other and within our organization, we can grow tremendously and achieve incredible hights together.
As a leader, I want to inspire as many people as I can. And to do this, I have to be engaging through my beliefs and my behaviors. I really don’t think we can truely inspire without these two elements. I can act like I am engaged, but if my heart isn’t really in it, people will sense that and see right through me. When people are inspired AND are engaged, that creates momentum. And as John Maxwell says:
“Momentum is a leader’s best friend. When you have it, it exaggerates everything in a positive way.“
“A” is for Aspiring
To aspire is to desire and work toward achieving a goal. Some synonyms of the word aspire are ambitious, go-getting, hard-driving, pushing, and self-seeking. When I think of the word aspire, I also think of the word hope. But we cannot be a real leader by just hoping things will get done or get better. We must go even beyond aspiring: we need to take action!
Aspiring gives our actions a purpose. It becomes our “why”. Simon Sinek said it best:
“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.“
Inspiring is an urge to do something. Aspiring is having the ambition to reach it. A real leaders inspires to aspire.
“L” is for Listens
Larry King has been quoted saying:
“I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”
That quote awakened me to the importance of listening. Once I became aware and started being intentional about listening, I realized to what extent I wasn’t doing enough of it. You see, I love helping people, and when they would come to me for advice or for my thoughts, I would be to quick to offer solutions. To be honest, what I had to work on the most was to not interrupt them by blurting out excitedly: “Here’s what you can do!”.
Leaders must be great listeners in order to best serve the people they work with. Not only does it allow us to take in as much information as possible, but it also allows us to be able to ask better questions that can lead to better solutions. And that is how we can help people become a better version of themselves.
So what is being a REAL leader all about? Its about continuously pushing ourselves to become more resourceful, more engaging, as aspiring as possible, and always listening.
What steps will you take to be a REAL leader?