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'Wanted: Skills, Discipline, and Strength of Character'

WANTED: Skills, Discipline, and Strength of Character

Aug. 06, 2014 | Cindy Lee

I'm constantly hearing from corporate, from society, from clients' experiences, that you "need" to be a certain type of leader. Typically, this looks like needing to move up the ladder and take on more responsibility in scope and authority over people. This is troubling for some of my clients who are excellent at what they do, and would be happy to do it for a long time, but are pressured to "grow" and move to the next level. [How can we function if everyone seeks to lead and nobody is willing or encouraged to follow?] 

So let's take a different look at leadership development and define a leader as someone who has influence and impact - or more simply and accurately, it's a person others follow. That's powerful because of all the people you can CHOOSE to follow, you pick this person. That has more to do with character and abilities than with position and title. Whether you want to move up the ladder or stay where you're at, these can work for you and in fact will likely improve your relationships across all areas of life (beyond career). 

What does it take to be this kind of a "leader"? 

When I ask my career transition clients to define their ideal work environment, it often requires having a manager they trust and respect. In order to actually look for those qualities, I dig deeper to ask them what that looks like to them -- it comes down to these main areas: they're looking for someone who is capable of helping them gain certain skillsets, who seems to have strong disciplines in his/her life that can be repeated for success and ideally emulated, who consistently does what he/she says, and who exemplifies a sense of care for them as individuals. 

When I ask my leadership and executive clients to define a "leader" type that they admire, often it's the same few aspects. 

So, if you're seeking to grow in your ability to influence and impact, whether you prefer to do it openly or quietly, I have a few tips for you. (Even if you're turned off by the thought of "becoming a leader," these apply... and I have some additional tips below.) People generally want to follow someone who has character that they respect and can help them to thrive. Let's drill down on the qualities that were outlined above -- 

  1. Skills: "I'm looking for someone who is capable to help me gain certain skillsets."
    • For the type of work that you are responsible, do you have the right skills to be successful and produce the necessary outcomes? If you can still identify gaps in your training, start to acquire those skills. 
    • How are you in your desire and ability to help others gain certain skillsets? Even if you are still working on your own skills, there is always someone who knows less than you do about something and can benefit from your experience. People are constantly looking for mentors and those with the desire and aptitude to coach them to grow in specific ways. Being able to effectively mentor someone is a skill in and of itself. 
  2. Discipline: "I'm looking for someone who seems to have strong disciplines in his/her life that can be repeated for success and ideally emulated." 
    • Do you have personal practices in your life that help you to succeed?  (Or, is your success based on circumstance and chance?)  If you can specifically call out the disciplines that lead you to be healthy and perform well, you're on the right track. A few basics to focus on are disciplines to stay physically well (not just "hitting the gym," but equally important things like getting sufficient sleep at night) and stay emotionally and spiritually well (spending daily time in reflection and grounding yourself on important principles). 
    • Are your disciplines evident to others, and are you sharing about them? If you are experiencing amazing results in your own life (not just career), why would you not pass that along to those you are responsible for and help them gain the same? 
  3. Strength of Character: "I'm looking for someone who consistently does what he/she says and who exemplifies a sense of care for me as an individual." 
    • How would you gauge if you're becoming more or less like the person you want to be? It's hard to measure this until you establish a foundation upon which you operate. This area looks different for everyone as it depends on your values. To start, do you know what your core values are? Some examples: honesty, respect, achievements, compassion, fun... 
    • Do your actions reflect your words and beliefs? This is one measure of integrity - inconsistencies are evident to others, and you will certainly feel the detriment internally when you dishonor your own standards and values. 
    • If your values include respecting people and appreciating relationships, do people KNOW this? Do they feel your care, your respect, your appreciation for them? This may seem to come more easily for those who are relational by nature (though not necessarily). People who are naturally wired to be more task-driven will find this harder, but if you "task" yourself (ie, are intentional) to articulate the care and respect you feel for others, they WILL feel it and appreciate your efforts to do so. 

These are for EVERYONE. Even if you're turned off or are shying away from the pressure to "become a leader," I'd encourage you to still focus on these areas because no matter where you are, you have a platform to impact others in ways that bring respect, loyalty, rapport, results, relationship. Look for the type of influence you can offer to peers, your children, younger adults looking to gain from experiences you've had - and I guarantee you'll find a deep satisfaction that can't be paralleled if you choose to make yourself available to them. 

How are you doing in these areas? 

Would love to hear additional areas that stand out for you!