The other day, I was reading a Facebook post praising a mentor of mine. I agreed wholeheartedly with the post and wanted to add my two cents. I began to compose a comment saying how I learned more from watching what he did than from what he told me to do. And it hit me…..a leader is someone who models behavior that people follow. And it hit me again…..I am a leader.
You see, my definition of leader was narrow. To me, a leader was a person who had been to a place or achieved a goal he was leading people to. The old “I’ve been to the top of Mt. Everest so I know the terrain and can lead you there” definition. Since I have goals I have not achieved, I didn’t see myself as a leader. After all, what “terrain” did I know? Why would people follow me down a road I know nothing about?
During my stint as an employee, I worked in 5 different offices. I remember that in each office, the staff would oftentimes come to me for guidance on problems, procedures, rumors and other things related to the office; to be the leader. I would look at them and ask, “Why are you asking me? Do I look like your supervisor?” They would respond with, I know you will be honest with me or You know what you are doing around here or You know how things work around here. Their behavior toward me, their view of me, made me feel uncomfortable Today, people still come to me for guidance and to be the leader. I still feel uncomfortable. Clearly, other people see a quality about me that I don’t see. As I write this post I’m hit with another thought: I am uncomfortable accepting myself as a leader because of my definition of leader. Also, I am uncomfortable accepting myself as a leader because I am afraid of making a mistake and letting people down.
Okay, what I’m saying probably sounds strange given the books I read on leadership and my Reading4Champions book club. The reality is this….until what I read got deep into me and became part of me, I was just reading and reading. But that’s okay. I, and you, have to start somewhere. And as Tony Robbins says, “Repetition is the mother of skill.” All that reading has finally gotten me deep into me and I really get it now. There is more to being a leader than “been there before you”.
A leader has vision. She (or if you are male, he) sees things before others and grasp their value. When I was in high school (a million years ago) I thought computers were awesome. I saw their potential and knew they would dominate in the future. A family member disagreed with me saying computers wouldn’t go anywhere; who would want one of those big room-sized things in their house? Nevertheless, I majored in big room-sized computers in college. Fast forward to today. I am typing this post on my netbook (a very small computer) in my house! And many, many people carry around small computers everyday (smartphones, netbooks, Ipads). Tah-Dah!
A leader inspires not only with words, but also with actions. She shows people how to behave in life. What better way to lead another person than by modeling behavior? As my mentor often says “More things are caught than taught.” Last year, my daughter and I faced a financial crisis; it was scary. If I was still an employee, the crisis wouldn’t have occurred. My daughter panicked big time; I didn’t. Instead, I fell on my faith and leaned on God. I knew He would not have led me away from a six figure income to end up on the streets. I began praying with her and telling her that our situation was temporary. My behavior, my daily routine, remained normal. Pretty soon, she started saying our situation was temporary. Her behavior returned to normal. Within weeks, the crisis began to disappear and was resolved in a couple of months. When another crisis hit, she knew how to handle it.
In looking around me, I realize there are different categories of leader. I see the leader who gets there before the people he is leading. I see my mentor, Mr. Orin Solomon, who has reached the business leadership positions I have as goals before me. I see the leader who gets there beside the people he is leading. I see Sir Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay who reached the top of Mt. Everest with the people they were leading. I see the leader who never gets there, but forges a path for the people he is leading to follow. I see President John F. Kennedy who set a goal in 1961 for the U.S. to reach the moon before the end of the decade, but died in 1963 before the goal was reached in 1969. And I see a leader moves from one category to another depending on the task at hand. After all, a leader is a visionary so when a goal is achieved, a leader just sets another goal in place.
So what have I learned while writing this post? Two things:
1) Change my narrow definition of leader and get it deep inside me right now.
2) Accept myself as a leader.
So what do I want you to take away from this post? Two things:
1) Change your definition of leader. A leader is a person who sometimes gets there before the people she is leading, sometimes with the people she is leading and sometimes forges a path for the people she is leading.
2) Repetition is, indeed, the mother of skill. If there is something you haven’t gotten yet, keep reading, keep moving forward with what you have and one day, it will get deep inside of you and become part of you.
Question for Comment: Examine yourself and your life. Are in a leader? Why do you feel that way? Is it time for you to change your definition of leader?
(originally posted February 23, 2011)