THERE IS AN OLD STORY I remember hearing long ago. A man decides he wants to change the world. As he sits down to consider the challenge, he realizes just how big the world is so he decides to narrow his focus. He would change the hemisphere in which he lives. No, that won’t work because this is still too big of a challenge. So, he decides his focus should be changing his country – no, his state – no, his county – no, his town. Each time he realizes just how big the task would be. How about changing those who live on my street, he pondered, or just those who live in my house? Finally, he came to a solution. I will start my quest to change the world simply by learning what I need to do to change myself.
Entering into a leadership position can be a daunting challenge – there is so much to learn – so much to accomplish – so much riding on your success. The questions that keep you awake are the same for everyone – Where do I start? – How do I build trust with my new team? – Will I be able to meet the challenges that arise unexpectedly? – Will I be successful as a leader? – Where do I begin?
Rule number one for all leaders is this. Know yourself and seek self-improvement. You can’t lead others if you do not know who you are as a person and what brought you to this point in your life. So many ‘new leaders’ make the mistake of imagining what they think a good leader looks like from past experience and acting in a manner that emulates this vision. The problem is that you will appear to be acting like a leader instead of being a leader. So, before taking on any new leadership challenge, take the time to get off by yourself and assess yourself. Make sure you write down your assessment – you are building your self-improvement plan and will need to know from where you are starting.
- Ask yourself, what are the strengths I know I possess that helped me get to this moment in life where I am about to be the leader of this new team? How can I use these strengths to begin the process of rallying my new team around my goals? How can these strengths bring value to the team? What can I do to improve my strengths so that I may be an exceptional leader?
- What are my weaknesses and how will these weaknesses create problems in my new leadership position. What can I do to overcome these weaknesses? Which weakness must be corrected immediately so I do not put the success of the team at risk? What tools are available to help me in my quest to improve myself?
- Finally, with your assessment in hand, you are ready for the hard part. Find a trusted friend who has known you for a long time or sit down with your boss who is putting you in the new position or if you are fortunate to have one, sit down with a trusted mentor and ask them to honestly tell you about your strengths and your weaknesses. Encourage them to be brutally honest. Compare what they tell you to your self-assessment but don’t be too surprised if your lists do not match. And don’t take it personally – if you honestly want to improve yourself, you have to be willing to let those you trust give you fair and honest feedback.
Let me share a personal example with you. I pastor a small church and have been their pastor for over 10 years. Each Sunday, I must stand before people I have grown to care for deeply and share with them insights from God’s Word in hopes of helping them develop a close, personal relationship with our Heavenly Father. And each Sunday, I trust my wife to critique my message, my delivery technique, my strengths, and my weaknesses. Believe me when I tell you that sometimes, it hurts – especially if I am really pleased with how I feel the message was delivered. But, I fight the urge to argue with her and I listen. Over the last 10 years, her honest feedback has made me a much better preacher and pastor. I need her to keep me grounded so that as the spiritual leader of our church, I serve God to the very best of my ability – being the vessel He uses to accomplish His purpose in the life if His children. My wife keeps me from becoming too focused on myself and constantly focused on my purpose for being a pastor. We all need his kind of honest feedback if we are going to excel in our leadership position.
Now that you have your assessment and the assessment of a trusted person in hand, you are ready to really work at your self-improvement plan. Here are some things you can do immediately to enhance your journey into leadership.
- Learn by studying the causes for success or the failures of other leaders. Two of my favorite leadership books are “The Art of War” by Sun Tse and “The Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun” by Wess Roberts, Ph.D. You will have no problems finding enough examples to read make your professional reading time a priority.
- Master the art of effective writing and speech. Take an effective writing course. Take a public speaking course. Join an organization like Toast Masters to hone your public speaking skills. Every leader will have to effectively communicate in both written and oral form. You must make communication skills a high priority if you are going to be an exceptional leader.
- Develop a genuine interest in people so that you can obtain an understanding of human nature. Remember, you are leading individuals who each have different passions, skills, abilities, backgrounds, education, etc. But somehow, someway, you, as the leader, must encourage them to work together to be successful. This is no small task but is the part of leadership that is the most fun.
- Finally, have definite goals, a definite plan to attain each goal, and the ability to communicate this information to your team in such a way they want to help you get to the new destination because they are excited about the trip.
If you are looking for the foundation on which to build your leadership career, you now have it. As a leader, you will be encouraging your people to change, grow personally, and professionally help them be successful in their career – and you can only do that when you know how to change yourself.