I was having a conversation with my friend and US leadership specialist LaVonn Steiner. ‘Robyn’, she said, ‘my topic of leadership has many aspects that will help your productivity readers. Why don’t we write a book together?’ And so ‘Getting a Grip on Leadership – How to learn leadership without making all the mistakes yourself’ (Reed, 2004) was born. Educationalists are leaders, and great leaders are very efficient users of time.
Perhaps you’ve got staff members grizzling into their coffee cups, or your boss or board jumping up and down, or an influential parent threatening to take their children elsewhere. Your staff or your team don’t seem able to manage without your constant supervision; you’re overloaded with work; your family complains that they need a photo on the fridge to remind themselves what you look like; and you’re feeling increasingly frustrated with your role.
Or maybe you’re running a voluntary organisation, and one of your committee has let you down. That’s even harder – you can’t get too tough or you’ll find yourself running the whole show! You rely on their good nature to contribute: there’s no pay packet to hold over their head as an ‘inducement’ to perform!
You start to wonder – was there some way you could have explained yourself better? But how to learn? If you’re like many people who find themselves in management or leadership positions, (and show me a teacher who isn’t a leader!) you’ve had minimal training for that aspect of your role. You may be very good at some parts of your work, but that doesn’t automatically confer leadership brilliance.
What LaVonn and I have both learned through years of trial and error is the need for a practical ‘how-to’ guide on leadership. Managers and many ‘trainee’ leaders crave for a system – but the shelves are pretty bare.
We’ve identified four essential commonsense components. Apart from a few obvious shifts of emphasis, the same basics apply for individuals in their personal relationships, people running teams within commercial organisations, (including teaching) and those who make a contribution with some form of voluntary service.
The Four-Step ‘Getting A Grip On Leadership’ System:
- Foundation – Who are you? To lead others, first know yourself.
- Vision and Strategy – Where are you and your organisation going? Create a plan.
- Climate – What’s it like to work here? How to build a positive workplace.
- Synergy – How to work well together
Without these four fundamentals, lasting leadership will not take place. However, when they are bedded in, performance improves; results improve; and people grow.
Obviously in a book we can cover far more, but for this article, let’s discuss two of the eight elements in Step 1 of the system.
1. Who are you?
You might think: ‘But I just want to learn to lead. Why ask ‘who am I?’? Give me the practical stuff – now!’
The better you know yourself, the better you lead. Your foundation is formed by what you believe, what you’ve learned and how you live. It’s your anchor in the midst of chaos. It’s the centre you seek to make decisions, take action, and influence others. When your foundation is rock-solid you create unity and trust. When your foundation is fragile or incongruent you create division and distrust.
Take twenty minutes, away from interruptions, and record everything you can about who you are. Use the following questions as thought starters. Don’t waste time analysing – go with your intuition and record the first thoughts.
- What do I stand for?
- What life lessons have I learned?
- Where’s my power?
- What am I good at?
2. What is your purpose?
Your personal purpose
This defines your core gift to the world. Each of us is responsible for using our purpose to leave the world a better place than we found it. It’s your fingerprint on the world. Each of us has a unique combination of beliefs and talents: we each have our own individual life script. It’s not what we do in life; it’s not our role or job. Our purpose is what we bring to our role or job. It’s the big ‘Why am I here?’ question. Here’s a big clue – to discover it, we must let go of our ego.
What you seek is clarity. The benefits apply not only to individuals, but also to organisations. Clarity starts from the inside: it only becomes visible to others if our actions are congruent with our mental vision of who we are.
Use the following list for thought starters, and aim to reduce your thoughts to a single sentence:
· What am I good at?
- What do my friends say is my greatest gift? (If you’re stuck and can’t see it, ask a friend to help. We’re often too close to recognise it.)
- Where is my power?
· What do I do because of my greatest hurt?
- What do I care about?
- Where’s my passion? (Clue – when you’re engaged in something you’re passionate about, time passes in a flash – you’re completely engrossed)
- What brings me a strong feeling of satisfaction and joy?
· What is it I do that makes the world a better place?
Your organisation’s reason for being
Purpose and mission are sometimes used interchangeably, but are not really the same. ‘Purpose’ answers the question ‘Who are you?’ and is more commonly used for an individual. ‘Mission’ answers the question ‘What do you do?’ and tends to be used to describe an organisation’s reason for being.
An association was experiencing a shake-down. A new Chair had taken over, and all manner of things needing urgent attention were brought to the surface, including serious financial problems. It seemed all very overwhelming – until one of the experienced members said, ‘What’s our mission? If we start from there the priorities become obvious, and the course of action will also be clear’.
His advice bore fruit – they very quickly got back on track, with a clear sense of ‘next steps’ to follow. The challenges didn’t go away, not everybody agreed on every detail, but the Chair had a clear path and mandate to work towards.
Again, aim to reduce your thoughts to a single sentence. These questions may help.
- What do we do?
- Who do we serve?
- What value do we bring?
· What are the outcomes of what we do?
You may have read my article on Selwyn Ridge School, near Tauranga. Before the school even opened for students, the whole staff came together for two weeks in school holiday time as a new team to sort through these and other core issues. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the school has gone from strength to strength in every way since its beginning.
A strong leader has clarity of purpose and vision, so far less time is wasted scrabbling around in the detail. When you’re clear what you want, and what’s important, you’re better able to use that as a decision-making benchmark. Your version of my favourite phrase ‘What is the best use of my time right now?’ becomes your filter.