A great threat to our businesses, culture, economy, and way of life is the significant lack of leadership that permeates our society. Yet, the solution to this significant problem is very simple. We need to create (or re-create) a leadership culture.
So what is leadership? Is it a natural gift endowed to a few or a learned behavior available to all?
When you read the word “leader”, what image or description immediately comes to your mind? Take a few moments right now to answer these questions:
- Who do you picture or think of when you think of a leader?
- Why did you pick them? What were the qualities, characteristics or traits that made them come to your mind?
The late Dr. Stephen R. Covey posited that leadership is a choice, not a position. This means leadership behavior is a learned behavior. It also means we choose our behavior. A great deal of responsibility comes with this understanding. It means when we engage in a behavior consistent with the list of characteristics above, then that is our choice. It also means that when we do not live that behavior…it is also our choice. So, when someone says, “well, you know Bernie, that’s just the way he is,” I encourage you to remember, that is just the behavior he chooses!
Consider this…leadership manifests itself in the form of behavior. Dr. Covey spells this out very well in his “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Habit #1 – Be Proactive: Your life doesn’t just “happen.” Whether you know it or not, it is carefully designed by you. The choices, after all, are yours. You choose happiness. You choose sadness. You choose decisiveness. You choose ambivalence. You choose success. You choose failure. You choose courage. You choose fear. Just remember that every moment, every situation, provides a new choice. Moreover, in doing so, it gives you a perfect opportunity to do things differently to produce results that are more positive. Habit #1 – Be Proactive, is about taking responsibility for your life. You can’t keep blaming everything on your parents or grandparents. Proactive people recognize that they are “response-able. “They don’t blame genetics, circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. They know they choose their behavior. Reactive people, on the other hand, are often affected by their physical environment. They find external sources to blame for their behavior. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn’t, it affects their attitude and performance, and they blame the weather.
All of these external forces act as stimuli to which we respond. Between the stimulus and the response is your greatest power–you have the freedom to choose your response. One of the most important things you choose is what you say. Your language is a good indicator of how you see yourself. A proactive person uses proactive language–I can, I will, I prefer, etc. A reactive person uses reactive language–I can’t, I have to, if only. Reactive people believe they are not responsible for what they say and do, they have no choice. Instead of reacting to or worrying about conditions over which they have little or no control, proactive people focus their time and energy on things they can control.
Therefore, if we know leadership is a choice and we know we are in control of choosing our behavior, then we must take full responsibility for the outcomes caused by our behavior, both good and bad. We have developed or accepted a new paradigm, a new normal of acceptable behavior.
This is called “Victim” behavior. However, at its core it is the blame game culture. It is the absolute lack of accountability and responsibility. So that’s the bad news. The great news is we have a solution that is free and incredibly effective. Choosing leadership behavior “moves the needle” in the right direction and everyone can do it.
Our objective as leaders is to help others recognize and acknowledge their ability to choose their response and exercise it appropriately and consistently. We frequently see people react with anger, frustration, and even tears! The rumor mill cranks up, people gather around the “water cooler” and complain about how unfair it is and how clueless management or owners are. Their choice of behavior drags themselves and everyone else around them down.
Cultures don’t change unless individuals change. It starts with you and how you decide to act for yourself.
Previously, we identified the most common and effective qualities and characteristics of leaders. We also agreed that leadership is a learned behavior and that it is a choice. Now we need to identify the leaders in our organizations and begin to establish a new mindset for the entire team about the possibilities of embracing a new way of thinking.
Desired Outcome: Develop a new understanding between the difference of management vs. leadership and how to begin to realize the true potential of your team. We will begin the process of developing personal accountability and responsibility which will result in a greater degree of ownership.
Whose permission do we need to decide to be a leader?
Only our own! Leadership is a choice.
Leadership language is proactive in nature. It is affirmative, positive, moving toward language. Remember that the words we choose to use fire off chemical storms in our brain that can support us or bring us down. One word I have conditioned myself NOT to use is “try.” In my mind “to try” is a predisposition for failure. There is not commitment or conviction in trying. Consider the following sentences:
1. “I sure am going to try to finish that project for you on time.”
2. “I will finish that project on time.”
With the first sentence, I protect myself from falling short. My excuse will be that I did try to get it done; I just could not do it in time. The second sentence leaves no room for excuses. It has commitment and ownership.
Owning is the ultimate example of taking personal accountability and responsibility and delivering on the outcome. It is very different from simply being interested in something getting done. Even the “guy who pushes a wheelbarrow” across the job site can play at an ownership level. By the way, so can the owner of the company.
The bottom line: Leadership is a choice and it must be an expectation for all members of the team.
–General Colin Powell (ret)
To learn more about ways to develop your leadership skills to their full potential, call PBC for a free no-obligation consultation.
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