Creating a culture that builds positive leadership is everybody’s job
In their book, “Leadership Challenge,” Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner cite research that 99% of people are capable of leading, but also acknowledge that most of us think of leaders as someone else. “It’s as if leadership is reserved only for those with some special talent, birthright, gene, calling, position or title,” they discern.
I define leadership as actions and behaviors that influence the actions and behaviors of others. People exhibit leadership every day, even without a formal title and often without even thinking of themselves as leaders. We need a broader and more inclusive understanding of leadership.
In his book, “This Is Day One: A Practical Guide to Leadership That Matters,” Drew Dudley describes observing an efficient grocery line cashier, telling her how much he appreciates her work and receiving a grateful response. Some many not think of a cashier as a leader, but doing your job well and being a good role model are important leadership traits! Dudley asks each of us to consider: “What have I done today to recognize someone else’s leadership?”
Three qualities of effective leaders, I emphasize in my training workshops, are positive energy, authenticity and self-awareness (including understanding how behaviors impact others). During everyday contact with store clerks, airline stewards, etc., it can be difficult to assess the last two traits, but positive energy is often easy to recognize. When I interact with someone with a deep smile (or who asks, “How are you?” beyond the usual I-am-obligated-to-say-that), I try to give positive feedback. It feels good to acknowledge helpful, friendly behavior, and I never know when I might positively influence someone.
Think about applying these concepts in the workplace. “He is just doing his job” might be a counterargument to offering praise, but good work should be acknowledged. Simple heartfelt statements such as, “I appreciate the way you do your job which makes my job easier,” or “You are a good role model for your co-workers” are easy to say when you mean them, and these kinds of actions can be contagious, reinforcing a positive workplace culture.
Ideally, this should start from the top and include leaders with formal supervisory roles, but creating a culture that builds positive leadership is everybody’s job.
Author Susan Fowler observes: “In a world crying out for effective leadership, you need to begin with the most obvious source … yourself.”
Self-leadership, according to Self Leadership International, is defined as “having a developed sense of who you are, what you can do, where you are going, coupled with the ability to influence your communication, emotions and behaviors on the way to getting there”. We each need to develop self-leadership in ourselves and cultivate it in others.
When things aren’t going well at work, it is easy to fall into a pattern of blaming others, gossiping or playing the victim, but, even when frustration is justified, these are self-defeating strategies. Things may not be perfect at work, but it is up to each of us to apply self-leadership skills to find solutions that work for ourselves (and hopefully for others as well).
Fowler describes this as overcoming assumed restraints, recognizing your own power and getting beyond what’s holding you back.
People armed with the skills of self-leadership feel more positive about themselves and their jobs. “They also have the characteristics of employee work passion: they perform at higher levels, endorse the organization positively, have higher levels of autonomy and competence, and are more likely to remain with the organization,” Fowler adds.
When people are empowered, proactive self-leaders, they contribute in ways that help their business or organization flourish. Encouraging these behaviors is also a great way to help grow people to take on bigger leadership roles.
For further thought: Are you exhibiting positive self-leadership? Do you recognize how your actions influence others? How often do you acknowledge positive work of co-workers? List three specific actions you could take to reinforce self-leadership skills in yourself or others.
We each have an extraordinary opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives (including our own). Don’t underestimate your impact!
Douglass P. Teschner, founder of Growing Leadership LLC, can be contacted at dteschner@GrowingLeadershipLLC.com.