I can remember the exact day when I experienced an epiphany and decided I wanted to become a Leader – I was fast closing in on completing my 5th year as a Senior Sales Executive, and whilst I was enjoying the role and was reasonably successful, I had this nagging feeling that something was missing, that there was something more that I could be, and should be doing. And it was a chance corridor conversation with a very successful Sales Leader that provided the catalyst for me to begin a journey that has been nothing short of extraordinary.
Peter had just been promoted to a Director role, and asked me ‘So when are you taking the next step and jumping into Sales Leadership?’ It was a question that at first startled me, because whilst I had observed Peter very closely over the previous 5 years, and had sought to model his behaviour, we had not spent a great deal of time 1:1 discussing sales, and certainly not sales leadership. After getting over the initial shock of the question, I responded by saying that I would love to work towards a sales leadership role within the next 5 years, if the opportunity presented itself. His response floored me – “Well, that is totally up to you!” Up to me? Really? And it was at that moment that I asked a question that changed the direction of my career in an instant – I asked “Peter, would you be prepared to be my Leadership Mentor?”. “Would love to be, absolutely” he responded. Wow, no turning back now.
The first couple of mentor sessions are etched in my memory like a movie – they were challenging, thought provoking and very inspiring. During the second session, Peter said “The awesome thing about stepping up as a leader, is that it is up to YOU. You decide whether you will be great. And the not so awesome thing is that, equally, the person standing in your way is also YOU. So the choice is yours”. Hearing this was both disappointing and exciting at the same time. At the time, I thought that leadership was all about learning new skills and new processes, that there would be a flow chart that I could follow, just ‘do things’, and I would become a leader. Peter very quickly poured cold water over that – he shared with me that there were a number of questions I would have to continually ask myself, to develop my leadership philosophy (or Blueprint), and leadership muscle, including :
- Will you decide to be a Leader? His philosophy was that everything starts with a decision. Did I really want to become a leader, and if the answer was yes, then why? What was it about leadership that was important to me? He shared with me the fact that many people are thrust into positions of leadership because of their successful track record, and are not necessarily ready for, or willing to accept the responsibility that comes with leadership, and end up falling away, and not being successful. So he said, “First, decide to be a Leader, it is up to you”.
- Will you take responsibility and live above the line? Part of the decision to be a leader is the preparedness to take responsibility for everything that happens. Live above the line, and not below it. Instead of being at ‘effect’ of what happens to you and the team, be at ‘cause’, accept responsibility for whatever happens and you therefore have the power to respond in the most appropriate way. The bottom line is that stuff is always going to happen, and often it will be beyond your control, however, if you take responsibility for it, you are in a much better position to respond, and be an empowering example for your people. It is up to you.
- What do you stand for as a Leader? What is important to you, and what do you value? The answer to these questions will shape the type of leader you will become. What standards are you prepared to develop, execute, maintain and never compromise on? Be very very clear on your values, as they will represent who you are. And when you have identified these values, ensure that you are consistently demonstrating these, as your people will be watching your every move, and if you compromise on any of the values, you compromise your leadership. It is up to you.
- Will you be a Leader or a Manager? This links in with the values, standards and what you believe in. Will you create an environment where your team feels empowered to create, to push the boundaries, and to expand their comfort zone, knowing they have your full support, even if they fail or make mistakes? Or will they be forced to focus on tasks, on compliance and achieving kpi’s, and operate in an environment where they are fearful of making mistakes. Decide on leadership or management. This is up to you.
- Will you decide to serve in order to lead? Once in a leadership role, do you believe that your team is there to serve you, or are you there to serve your team? The answer to this question will have long lasting ramifications on the success of the team, as well as the success of you as a leader. How can you influence your people, and empower them, through seeking opportunities to help them, and to support them? If you decide to make it about others and take your eyes off you, your leadership can soar. It is up to you.
- Will you surrender and leave your ego at the door? One of the most endearing qualities of strong leaders is their ability to constantly demonstrate humility, to know when to step back and allow others to accept the accolades, and know when to step in and take responsibility when things go wrong. Knowing when to surrender is perhaps the ultimate sign of leadership confidence, which builds confidence and empowerment within the team. In the words of William Booth “The greatness of a mans power is the measure of his surrender”. This is up to you.
- Will you decide to be a life long learner? There is a common theme that is shared amongst the greatest leaders who have ever lived, and that is they continue to learn. They realise that you never arrive as a leader, and that there is always another level to aspire to, another challenge to confront, and the leader who has an insatiable appetite to continue to learn, is much better placed to lead their team through the challenges. Decide to be a life long learner, and stay ahead of the game – this is up to you.
- Will you be a teacher, an enabler and a connector? Leveraging off the decision to be a life long learner, will you pass on the learning and the wisdom to your people, so that you empower them to climb to the next level on their journey? Many of the greatest leaders are also great teachers – they teach through example, through modelling the behaviours they would like their team to adopt, and they teach through the transfer of knowledge and experience. Through this, they enable their team to expand and develop, and constantly search for opportunities to connect their people with others who may be able to accelerate their development. Choose to be a teacher, an enabler and a connector – it is up to you.
- Are you willing to do what it takes? This was the final question, and the one which had the biggest impact. To become a strong, effective and successful leader is not for the faint hearted. It is not easy. It takes work, it takes discipline, it takes dedication and constant practice of the fundamentals, to the point where you become proficient at them. Then it takes more work, more discipline and further dedication and practice to become excellent. And to become world class, even more work, more discipline and more dedication. So the question to ask is “Is it worth it?” The answer to that question is up to you.
Peter ended that second session by sharing one of his favourite quotes from Jim Rohn, who said “Work harder on yourself than you work on your job!” At the time, I don’t think I fully appreciated the power and wisdom sitting within that sentence, as I was so focussed on doing the right things within my role, trying to position myself for the sales leadership opportunity. However, as the years have passed, and I have worked extremely hard to answer all of the above questions to develop my leadership, I have come to understand that it is one of the most powerful philosophies we can adopt. Because when you work harder on yourself, you create opportunities and choices, and differentiate yourself from the pack. And the best bit? It is totally up to you!
To your leadership success.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post – I greatly appreciate it, and welcome comments and feedback. Please feel free to comment below, to follow me on LinkedIn, or to connect via Twitter or Facebook.
About : Darren is an Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant, Trainer, Facilitator, Speaker. A passionate and driven individual specialising in personal development, strategic planning, coaching for advocacy & enhanced performance, situational and servant based leadership, executive coaching of people leaders, emerging leaders and ‘high potential’ individual contributors within the Enterprise & Government market, personal change management, and strategic workshop facilitation & training.