A friend of mine who is a prominent business consultant says that if one goes into a bookstore and looks for the titles in the Chemistry section, they will find only a few books as everyone knows what chemistry is and is not; besides, chemistry has not changed much in the last 100 years and probably won’t in the next 100. However, if one went to the section on leadership, there would be hundreds of books all claiming to have the secret to success. Why is that? Because no one really knows what makes for great leaders! LOL! So let me add my proverbial two cents by sharing with you what I call, “The Five L’s of Leading.” And I hope it helps make you a more effective thought leader.
- Listen. Listen means not just to hear; rather, be an empathic listener. It means not formulating your response when you should still be listening. It means to understand the other and to ask questions. Lots of questions. It means listening with your head AND your heart.
- Learn. You cannot be a leader in anything of you don’t have knowledge and expertise on the topic. Learning comes from a place of humility beginning with the assumption that you do not know everything that there is to know. Surround yourself with others who are more knowledgeable and rely on their wisdom. They will make you look smarter than you really are.
- Lead. You can’t be afraid to speak up, to challenge assumptions, to give your opinion, to set a vision. Seek buy-in. Validate other’s ideas. Say “yes and” rather than “no but”. Make sure of and check your intentions. Are they in line with your vision? Is the mission of your company or organization still relevant? Does it need to change? Is change desired? Make allies. You cannot change anything alone. Leadership takes courage and a strong belief in one’s self; it is not for the faint of heart. Nor is it a popularity contest. At times leadership can be a very lonely enterprise. You should develop a team that includes: a mentor, coach, a therapist, even a friend who will tell you the truth, be a sounding board, and whose advice and feedback you trust and value. In the end, leadership is more about “who you BE” than what you do, but both are necessary. Be authentic. Be you because you are the only one who can.
- Leap. We all know the term “analysis can lead to paralysis” and in truth, understanding is overrated. Kierkegard spoke of a leap of faith in which he meant there are places where your intellect can only take you only so far. All the data and analysis will still lead to moments when faith in yourself and your vision will demand that you take action not because you have all the data, proof or facts, but because you are a stand for it. Because of who you “BE.” Dynamic things can happen only when you make that leap.
- Look again. Don’t be afraid to fail and make sure you keep repeating the above steps. Don’t rest on the laurels of your success and fall into the trap that what you have accomplished in the past will necessarily work in the future. Beware of the folks who say, “We have always done it this way”. That is always an excuse of the lazy, insecure, and the fearful. Don’t get old and moldy and become one of these people. Always be ready to start over.
Well, there you have it. I cannot guarantee you a successful career as there are so many other intangible pieces to being a great leader. There is also timing and luck—both unpredictable. But what I can say is that if you practice the 5 L’s with integrity and consistency, you will be a thought leader worth following.