“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” John Quincy Adams
What is a leader? How do you become a leader? How does a leader act? Good questions, with many good, if not always clear, answers. Some leaders are hired to their position, others are natural leaders, and some learn how to lead along the way. Some have positional power and leadership roles, but fall short as leaders. Some inspire others to do great things, but don’t have a title and the authority to lead.
There are many ways to fall short as leaders. Too often people are promoted and start acting like they think leaders should. Maybe they have the image of the autocratic leader, laying down orders that WILL be followed, or maybe they believe fear is the right way to lead. Or maybe they set a goal and when the goal is reached they say, “Okay, do one more.” Maybe they withhold resources or offer phantom incentives and promises of things that could happen. Maybe they lead through manipulation. Maybe they lead by looking out for themselves, focusing on the “What’s In It For Me” to guide their decisions.
These types of leaders, the ones that think that they should act like a leader when they get a leadership role, end up damaging themselves and their teams. They quickly lose credibility with their teams and their superiors. They fail to build trust and they undermine the critical relationships they need to achieve success. They damage their own effectiveness by trying too hard to act like a leader.
It’s easy to lead with inspiration when things are going well, when we are at the start of a project, when success seems assured. When the path gets a little bumpy, the future a little blurry, and we encounter our challenges, we then resort to pushing. Inspiration leaves us and we fall into the tired old cliche models of leadership. That is, if we’re trying to act like leaders rather than be leaders.
I recently read an article that highlighted the relatively new HR practice of monitoring employee’s social media activity to see if they were at risk of leaving. Companies identify high value employees that are most likely to be searching for a new job and proactively attempt to retain them. A pretty cool application of technology, but a questionable way to build employee satisfaction. Wouldn’t it be better to hire leaders that were connected to their employees; isn’t human connection the ultimate human resource strategy? Trolling employees’ social media profiles feels a little sneaky, it definitely lacks transparency, it doesn’t build trust, it undermines trust.
There is a better approach to leadership. We can be transparent, trusting, and supportive; we can have and show empathy. We don’t need to have all the answers; it’s ok to be a little vulnerable as a leader. It’s acceptable to ask for help and information and to let others shine.
I call it Karmic Leadership. You get what you give. What goes around comes around. If you send out enough positive, non quid pro quo support, amazing things will come back to you. If you are genuine in your desire to help, support, teach, and foster growth in those around you, everybody will win. Everybody will succeed. If you invest your energy in people, you will be rewarded by positive outcomes; without fear, or punishment, or threats.
Give support. Get results. It’s Karma. It’s pretty simple.