What is an effective leader to you? Have you worked with or under an inspiring person before? Becoming a leader and reaching your full potential requires working every day on these four foundational pillars of leadership.
The 4 Pillars of Leadership
Everything rises and falls on leadership. Leaders see how things can be better; they have bold visions. But vision is NOT enough. The leader must turn that vision into a reality.
Warren Bennis summed this up nicely when he said:
“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”
Leaders do this by casting a bold vision, aligning the organization, establishing a strategy, creating just enough structure so the team can tell if it is on- or off-track, and then championing execution. A true leader recognizes that success is their responsibility – yet impossible without a great team.
Jim Collins put it this way in his best-selling book, ‘Good to Great’:
“…leaders look out the window to attribute success to factors other than themselves. When things go poorly, however, they look in the mirror and blame themselves, taking full responsibility.”
A leader should work to become even more accountable by taking full responsibility for outcomes. Do NOT allow yourself to blame others, even when it is not your fault or when the outcome is out of your control.
At one point in my career, I had a strategic partner who developed a habit of missing deadlines. This caused us to miss client commitments. But our team’s client satisfaction ratings actually increased significantly when we stopped blaming our partner.
Instead, we took full responsibility. We managed our partner relationship, and learned to anticipate potential challenges. Leaders know how to find a way rather than to find an excuse.
Leaders recognize that leadership is NOT a position, a title, or a special power they have been granted. True leadership is measured by influence. As a leader’s influence grows, his or her followers become more willing to accept the leader’s vision for change.
With respect, leaders also find they are able to attract stronger people to their team. We all have a desire to be led; it’s a matter of looking for an individual or a cause worthy of our own level of leadership.
The late Steve Jobs nailed this point when he said:
“Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.”
You can tell if you are respected by the quality of the people who follow you and their willingness to change when asked. To increase your respect:
- Respect others. You must give respect to get respect, especially to those who serve below you or those who cannot help you.
- Act with courage. How bold is your vision? Are you willing to stand alone and make difficult decisions? Bold visions move people to action.
- Generate success. Build a track record of success by finding ways to generate successes. It’s fine to start small and build from there. When building respect, documentation beats conversation.
You cannot give what you do not have. Couple this with the tremendous pace of change impacting leaders and their organizations and it becomes clear that leaders must consistently invest in themselves.
Before people will voluntarily follow another, they want to know that they can trust someone – that the person cares about them, and that this person can help them. A good leader must work daily on competency, character, and connection with people.
Make a list of your biggest strengths, the needs of those you serve, and what gives you the most passion. Look for common themes on these three lists. This is where you should develop your competence.
Stay in your strength zone while simultaneously pushing your comfort zone. Read books, listen to podcasts, attend conferences, and work with mentors. Take responsibility for your personal development by pushing yourself to grow.
Identify your areas of improvement. Start by listing the people around you, then rate your levels of connection with them and recognize opportunities for development.
Work on your character as well. If your people don’t know what to expect from you as a leader, at some point, they won’t look to you for leadership. Start by scoring yourself on a scale of 1-10 in these three areas, and identify areas of opportunity.
- Are you scrupulously honest?
- Are you being yourself, and not role playing?
- Do you do the right things every day?
Leaders add value to others. They have a mindset of servanthood. When a leader serves others, their influence grows. However, many people believe that leaders need to be authority figures that direct others, find mistakes, or point out blind spots.
True leaders resist this temptation and instead, serve their organization by casting a clear vision, empowering others, and coming alongside.
Unfortunately, serving others does NOT come naturally for the majority of people. Most of us are unintentionally self-centered and add value to others ONLY when we develop an intentional plan to do so.
Here’s how you can practice servanthood on your way to becoming an effective leader:
- Help to get others to embrace the organization’s vision by delivering on your commitments, and being a model for the organization’s values.
- Fill in gaps. Rather than judge peers when they make a mistake or fall short on a commitment, leaders look for ways to help compensate when a peer is dealing with a difficult time.
- Assign roles to those below you that would leverage their strengths, building a strong team and developing team members so they can reach their full potential.
Leaders who make progress every day on these four foundational pillars of leadership can watch their influence grow: from self, to others, to teams, to companies, to industries, to communities – and beyond.