Are you ready? It’s pretty simple. The secret to leadership is … it’s not about you. Never. Ever. It’s about those you lead. Think about it. To be a leader, you need followers. Followers are more likely to follow you if it’s in their best interest. Self-serving is a surefire way to NOT attract followers. If you want others to follow — make your vision about them.

Forward Thinking with a Clear Path

In a Harvard Business Review study, thousands of working people around the world were surveyed about leadership; 72% mentioned forward thinking as a key attribute of a leader. People want to know where they are going and how they will get there. If you can present a vision with a clear path, and the activities to get there, you will be followed. If you want to be an inspiring leader, one whose followers would jump through fire, tell them what the vision means for them.

Leadership Through Honesty

In the same report, the number one attribute followers look for in a leader is honesty. This doesn’t mean just telling the truth. It means not spinning the facts to fit your views, not withholding information because it doesn’t fit, and not hiding the truth because it may be painful. I know a company that recently laid off several employees just before the holidays. The owner personally met with them and found temporary positions for them elsewhere. While he’d hoped to bring them all back, he didn’t give any guarantees. It depended on a business climate that was out of his control. Two of these employees are already back at the company. They weren’t upset with the company or its leader — on the contrary — they love the company. And why is that? Because the visionary leader was honest.

The Bottom Line

Leadership means putting others first. Take the time to consider any decision and every action from your followers’ point of view.

  • What does this mean to my followers?
  • How will it affect them?
  • What’s in it for them?
  • Have I shared the whole story?
  • Would I follow me and this vision?

Leadership is service, and if you are serving you first — you’re not a leader. The secret to leadership is that the best leaders serve others; not everyone has the disposition to be a leader. If you have assumed a leadership role for personal gain, you’ll never earn the loyalty you could by serving others. And without that loyalty, it will be difficult to successfully implement your plans, or at least, maximize their potential. That’s the secret to leadership. Be there for others. And here’s another secret to leadership: when you became a service leader – when you’re privileged to help others – it feels pretty damn good. Who do you serve?

And one more secret to leadership. Leaders know when to let go

I’m a control freak, and it seems both my adult daughters are, as well … wonder where they got that? I remember an awards banquet I coordinated several years ago, I had my three ring binder with every activity listed and planned down to the minute, from who would present each award, for how long, and what the band would play as the presenter left the podium.

Every moment of the banquet was accounted for, and timing was critical. The administrative staff came to me minutes before the ceremony kicked off and asked if they could gather everyone to the stage for a group photo — I said “no.” It wasn’t in the book, it wasn’t planned, and damn it, I was in control. Thank goodness I came to my senses, and we added the photo opportunity to the evening. My point is, don’t let being in control get in the way of doing what’s best. Know when to let go.

When Should You Let Go?

  • If someone has a better idea than you, let them use it. Yes, that’s right — someone may have a better idea than you.
  • When someone on the team wants to prove you wrong by making their plan succeed, let them prove it.
  • If it’s time for innovation, a new approach or perspective may show opportunities you didn’t know existed.
  • When you need a break, share some of the burden AND the fun with others. Not only will they have the opportunity to rise to the occasion, but you will benefit from the renewal.
  • When others, through their hard work and proven track record, have earned the right to take the lead give it to them.
  • To keep creative employees happy. Maintaining employee happiness isn’t only about money, benefits, or time off — it’s about being “in” on things, a part of the decision making process, and being recognized as a valued member of the team.
  • When your team is passionate about a project, let them run with it.
  • When your team or individuals are ready to take on more, let them. Because if you’re always in control how will they learn and grow?

Lead by Asking 

If you’re in leadership and want your direct reports to do more than follow your lead, one of the most powerful tools you possess are questions. If you want them to passionately participate, don’t tell them — ASK them. For much of the 20th century — and into the 21st — management in America has often been about commanding, not leading. Using questions to lead your subordinates is nothing new. The Greek philosopher, Socrates (470-399 BC), taught by asking a series of questions, leading the student to the desired end, or new enlightenment.

Why Lead With Questions

• The most effective method of team “buy-in” for any project is to make it the team’s plan. By asking questions and sharing thoughts, plans can be formed that transcend any one individual’s ideas or an organization’s goals, thus becoming the team’s vision.

• The team may have a better understanding of how to improve performance or production. If it affects them directly, they probably have a more current and complete understanding than you. Listen and learn.

• Don’t you want to know what your team is thinking —  If you know what’s on your team’s mind, you can help direct them through questions.

How to Ask Effective Questions

• If you want to know what someone thinks, or you want them to think for themselves, use open-ended questions. Open-ended questions such as what, why, and how, call for thoughtful responses.

• Don’t ask leading questions, like, “You agree, don’t you?”, or choice of positives, such as, “Do you want to begin at 7 or 7:30?”, or yes or no questions, like, “Do you know what to do?” These kinds of questions will not engage your team.

What kind of manager do you want to be? Leading subordinates through questions and gathering their input is team building. Their ideas don’t always have to be implemented, but they should be solicited. If you use questions to find out what they know, think, and believe, you’ll be rewarded with new ideas, improved teamwork, and loyal camaraderie. Are you good at asking questions? What are your favorites?

Are you a control freak? Are you sure? Do any of the bullet points sound familiar? Do personality tests such as Enneagram or Myers Briggs indicate you may be disposed to wanting to control everything? Have you found yourself disagreeing with co-workers on how to do the simplest tasks? Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to step back and let someone else have a little control, but not too much.

How Can I Help You?

I like to help people and organizations, but I have three criteria I consider before taking an assignment – I believe in what the organization stands for, I know I can help, and it looks like fun. If you have any questions, Contact Me. 

So, does your business have a  management training plan? Because, if not, many organizations, large and small, use my book, The New Manager’s Workbook a crash course in effective management, as the basis for their leadership development program. Check it out.

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash