What Do You Need to Lead?
The biggest leadership myth out there is the unspoken misconception that you need to wait for a promotion before you start leading.
The truth is that plenty of people with elaborate titles are terrible leaders (think dictators), while many of history’s greatest leaders, like Gandhi, had no title at all.
The difference between a dictator’s leadership and Gandhi’s is the difference between leading through authority and leading guided by a set of values. Granted, sometimes leading through authority is necessary, but as any parent knows, if you say, “Because I told you so,” too many times, it’s going to stop being effective eventually.
Leaders who rely exclusively on authority to make things happen will find that over time, trust and relationships are going to break down. These kinds of leaders have a hard time being inspirational when the going gets tough. Leading people through difficult times takes more than authority, it takes integrity, consistency, and most importantly, values.
How to Lead Through Values
The good news is that while you may need a title to lead through authority, no title is necessary to lead from a place of values.
Anyone can do it regardless of level—you only need to be able to do two things:
- Articulate the values you and your organization live by.
- Make a daily effort to live those values in both big ways and small.
We’ve all heard the phrase “Lead by Example.” In fact, it’s become so common that we forget how hard it is to live it every single day.
But if you want to get started, the first step towards leading this way is knowing which values you want to exemplify. What do you value? What does your organization value? Don’t just take it for granted that you have values and know what they are—get them in writing.
We each have values, but too often, they go unspoken. As a leader, you may assume that they are understood by all, but I would advise you not to risk it. Making your values clear brings them to the forefront of your mind (and your team’s mind).
Many companies, including Southwest Michigan First, have taken the step of compiling an official list of public, shared values. At Southwest Michigan First, we call these values “Axioms” and proudly display them on the wall. You can download my free e-book “Preeminence” to learn more. Google also has an interesting list of “Ten Things We Know to Be True” that the company wrote early on. On this list are the values: “You Can Make Money Without Being Evil,” “Focus on the User and All Else Will Follow” and “Great Just Isn’t Good Enough.” Your set of values should be unique to you. Make sure they are meaningful to your day-to-day as well as your overall mission.
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Sweat the Small Stuff
To be a great leader, you have to show up every day prepared to be the example. No matter your official title, your leadership will be most visible to those around you in the little things.
We have an Axiom at Southwest Michigan First we call “Never Cheat.” What we mean by this NEVER cheat. Ever. Never cheat on your expense account, never cheat on your taxes, never cheat at your golf game, never cheat paying for parking—never cheat.
If you can live up to your values in small and seemingly “unimportant” ways like paying for parking, you can be relied on by others to be principled when things get tough. If you do this every day, people will notice. That’s the kind of thing people look up to. You will be seen as a leader whether or not you have an official title.