Today’s post is by Jan Rutherford – author of The Littlest Green Beret. You can learn more about Jan at the end of the post.
The thing about leadership development is that it all starts with everyone’s favorite subject – themselves. Self awareness is the starting point for effective leadership, and it’s always interesting to watch my students obsess about survey results, feedback from peers, aptitude tests, and what it all means to their careers. The focus shouldn’t be on oneself, but on the leader’s effect on others. That is, our primary leadership tool is how we effectively communicate.
The variables are simply how well do we listen and how well do we speak to align expectations, and achieve results? Ultimately, we control two things: where we spend our time, and how we respond to our environment. What priorities will best produce the results we’re after, and what attitude will we choose to deal with everyday ups and downs? After all, a leader’s environment is largely made up with a bevy of complex and unending interpersonal relationships.
Nick Petrie recently published a brilliant white paper on “Future Trends in Leadership Development” where he discussed the transfer of greater developmental ownership to the individual. As a strong proponent of self-reliant leadership, I believe Petrie expertly articulated the need for developmental ownership to be squarely on the shoulders of the individual. Leadership can be an illusion of control, but changing your perspective on everyday experiences can provide inspirational learning opportunities for personal growth and development.
What questions should you routinely ask yourself? On a daily basis, what steps should you take to find personal success in your life’s work? Do you know your life’s work? Some say it’s the place where your passion and others’ needs intersect. I believe a key determinant of success is whether you can rely on yourself for self-coaching. However, self-reliant leadership is dependent on achieving a balance between independence and the interdependence of working with others to accelerate your own personal growth and development.
Self-reliance and leadership may seem to be contradictory notions, but there are three mutually supporting concepts:
1. Leadership requires self-awareness. Leaders understand their strengths and shortcomings and how those traits affect their ability to create willing followers.
2. The second is selflessness. A leader needs to have a steadfast passion for serving others, and that requires putting others first.
3. Lastly, self-reliance is essential because leading means being out front, and there are more naysayers than supporters when trailblazing. Self-reliant leaders believe in leading by example to develop followers who have initiative, persistence, and determination.
An additional trend Petrie identified was a greater focus on collective rather than individual leadership. The concept of collective rather than individual leadership is intriguing in this age of collaboration, teaming, social networks, and the need to bridge generational gaps that will persist for some time to come. Petrie asks us to consider “What conditions do we need for leadership to flourish in the network,” and how can we “spread leadership capacity throughout the organization and democratize leadership?”
With vast quantities of information, matrix structures, virtual teams, less command and control, the answer to Petrie’s query lies in organizational alignment. Does the leader know how to harness and execute strategy when the unknowns will always outweighs the knowns? Can the leader set the general direction without being ambiguous or micromanaging? Can the leader create an environment where an ownership mentality exists to create a sustainable sense of urgency?
The “collective leaders” will have to balance the purpose of the organization with their own self-interests. One of Petrie’s conclusions is that leadership will flourish when a number of perspectives are compiled and integrated. There is no doubt technology will play a role in facilitating the sharing of perspectives, but it will still take a savvy leader’s use of basic communication skills to create organizational alignment and effectively execute a given strategy. In the end, we all want answers to three basic questions we rarely ask of each other:
– Do you care about me?
– Can I trust you?
– Are you committed to my success?
It’s 2012, and everything has changed except the way organizations are structured and led. You don’t have all the answers and you’re not expected to; but you are expected to ask thought-provoking questions. Here’s one: Are you ready to convey personal responsibility for leadership development while encouraging collective versus individual leadership to advance your organization?
Jan Rutherford is the author of a book on self-reliant leadership called The Littlest Green Beret. Jan entered the US Army at age 17, and spent six years in Special Forces as a medic and “A” team executive officer, and three years as a military intelligence officer. For the past 20 years, Jan’s business roles have been in the areas of marketing, business development, sales management, corporate training, product management, and government affairs. He is also a professional speaker where he speaks in Europe and the United States.