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“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the wake of many social issues, many of which are still on going, there are various “leaders” popping up all over the place.

Now I’m not trying to poop on anyone’s parade but what I’m seeing is lots of egotism, narcissism and straight up “clout chasing.”

These aren’t leaders. These are opportunist. While all of this is happening, I know of and see many born leaders sitting back and letting it happen.

We need authentic leadership. Not “public figures.”

But I understand why you haven’t stepped up…yet. As a man with over 6 years worth of experience in leadership as a union steward, I was responsible for over 100 different people while working with 120 different personalities on a day-to-day basis which included union personnel and various management personnel as well.

I can gladly say that I don’t envy my successor. I don’t envy the burden they currently have in that role. It’s complicated. It’s messy and at times downright ugly.

I’ve had the “opposition” try to make disgusting backroom deals to sell my team out. I’m proud to say I stood firm in my integrity and didn’t sell out, even with a perpetual target on my back.

Unfortunately, I can’t say that many fellow team members weren’t sold out as a result of weak “leadership” we’ve had in the past who bent the knee to kiss the ring. Which is one of the reasons why I’ve stepped up in the past to make a difference by taking on a leadership role.

On the flip side, it did have its benefits. I’ve become a better person not only in my professional life but my personal life as well. I learned to be patient, caring, firm, yielding and many other things.

I’m here to provide valuable insight into actual leadership from actual experience.

The tone will be confrontational. It will be harsh in some places. But it is the honest perspective from a man who has experience in this realm and it’s NOT always glorious.


Leadership vs Management

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“Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.” — Stephen Covey

First and foremost, I have to draw the distinction between “leadership” and “management.” Leadership and management are two different things even though they cross paths in many regards. In my time as a union steward I’ve went up against some management personnel that got this vital point twisted.

Before you managers and front line supervisors get all poopy pants I want to make it clear from the outset that I don’t think one role is inherently better than the other.

Again, my position on this is either you’re born a leader or not. If you’re not, it’s not a bad thing. Your skill set just might be in another area.

As management personnel, you are given resources to manage as a subordinate. These resources range from: hours, marketing dollars, hourly personnel, workload, etc. Many management people are put in these roles because they are, by nature “pushy” and that just may be what upper management or leaders at the top level are looking for to execute their business or other strategies.

Peter Drucker in his book “The Effective Executive” says:

“The man who focuses on efforts and who stresses his downward authority is a subordinate no matter how exalted his title and rank. But the man who focuses on contribution and who takes responsibility for results, no matter how junior, is in the most literal sense of the phrase, “top management.” He holds himself accountable for the performance of the whole.”

Leadership is different. Leadership or “top management” requires that you lead your team, your people through a series of objectives under a superordinate goal. A superordinate goal is a goal you and your people unite under via a common interest. This is how you will corral your people indefinitely.

Leadership requires creativity and acknowledgment of the human element that management roles are devoid of. This is why we hear a lot of talk about “emotional intelligence” these days.

Leadership roles demand empathy of you. It demands that you get inside the minds of the people you lead in order to achieve set goals. It’s not about you or solely meeting a company’s numbers.

Leadership is also not about your clout chasing or economic aspirations. I see way too many insecure people take up leadership roles in a misguided attempt to exact some sort of pathological catharsis against the very people they are suppose to be serving.

Where many people in management get leadership wrong is their inability to develop adequate relationships with their team. They lack the coaching skills to tailor specific methods for individual needs.


It’s Always Your Fault

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Once upon a time, I worked for a company as a “social media manager” doing a little marketing. Nothing too serious.

I instantly observed that the owner of the company had a total lack of accountability.

The business was under going some sort of audit and although we were assigned our specific roles, the owner of the company wanted us to do things that was solely their responsibility.

As a leader, you’re the last line of defense and everything is your fault. No one is going to care about your responsibilities more than you do. And they shouldn’t. That is, unless they want your spot!

You know that boss who gives you a hard time? Isn’t it great that you get to blame them for everything that goes wrong in your role? But when you succeed in your role, it’s all your doing, correct?

In a leadership role it’s the reverse. All of “your” successes are actually credited to the team, as it should be. Expect no accolades from your team for being an effective leader. It’s your job. No pat on the back for you, buddy!

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” — Lao Tzu

On the flip side, when your team fails, it’s your fault. Even when it isn’t your fault, it’s still your fault. This is non-negotiable. If you can’t handle this burden, leadership is not for you.

Here’s a practical reason as to why you want to adopt this mindset. It’s not attractive to watch your leader blame your team members for “screwing up.” It’s not inspirational to watch your leader blame outside circumstances. It’s not good for morale.

While watching a breakdown from your leader, you inherently know that it’s not helping the situation. It’s at this moment you feel lost, without leadership and you lose all respect for your leader due to lack of trust.

It’s important to give edifying energy to a team that will return the energy in a positive feedback loop system. This way you will have a controlled reaction of positivity. But if you berate your team, they will leave. And execution of objectives will suffer then your role will be on the line.

Find a way to work with your team members in the event something goes wrong and move on. But always remember one thing, it’s always your fault.


Get Comfortable With Being Wrong

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“Ultimately, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It’s about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter. It is about laying the groundwork for others’ success, and then standing back and letting them shine.”— Chris Hadfield

As a leader you’re going to be wrong…a lot. But that’s alright, you’ll work through it. Many people don’t step into this role for that exact reason. They’re afraid of what it means to be “wrong.” They’re afraid of what it means to let people down.

I’ve let many people down in my career. But I’ve been brave enough to admit my faults and take it on the chin.

You might end up in a position where a bad decision you make costs someone their livelihood. It sucks. It will happen. You will mess up. But how will you move forward?

You can’t dwell on it. Although I say “get comfortable with being wrong.” What I really mean is to “get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

This is a HUGE aspect of what it means to be a leader.

Another aspect of being comfortable with being wrong is when you’re wrong even when you’re undeniably right but only you can see that.

As a leader, you’re a visionary. Many people won’t share your vision and you’ll always be wrong in their eyes. But in hindsight, historically, you’ll be correct.

People will only want to jump on board after you’ve made the hard but difficult decision necessary for the betterment and survival of the team or organization.

This is the moment where being a leader is lonely. Only you understand where everything is going. But as I’ve made clear as an underlying theme in my pieces on leadership, you were born to bare this burden.


Figure Out Your Mode Of Communication

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As a leader, you need to hone multiple modes of communication. It can be through: the written word, the spoken word or through a chain of command.

The fact of the matter is that you have to individualize your communication according to two factors:

  1. Your natural communication style — You might not be much of an oral communicator via public speaking so you might do well with writing things down and leaving notes. Or you could use some sort of chain of command.
  2. Your team members preferred communication style — In my experience, my 100 team members had 100 different personalities with 100 different styles of communication. Some were fine with direct instructions given, some preferred email, some only wanted a few words at a time no matter the mode of communication. It’s your job to figure out how each team member prefers to communicate and tailor a style to fit that mode.

You don’t have to be an extrovert to communicate effectively. I’ve had leaders that lead me to success without uttering more than 20 words at any given moment. This could also be due to the fact that I typically don’t like too many words being thrown at me in general.

One leader that comes to mind was a guy name Patrick. He was a leader in a front line supervisory role. He didn’t talk much but knew how to get his point across by watching, observing, taking notes then following up with me the following day to brief me.

This is to say that you don’t have to be a Drill Sargent, although it helps to have experience in public “motivational” speaking.

Find your mode of communication tailor it for each individual because it’s essential for effective leadership.


What Do You Bring To The Table?

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Again we can look to Peter Druckers book, “The Effective Executive.” He has this to say:

“The effective executive focuses on contribution. He looks up from his work and outward toward goals. He asks: ‘What can I contribute that will significantly affect the performance and the results of the institution I serve?’ His stress is on responsibility.”

What can you contribute? What specialized knowledge can you pull from to fill out your leadership role? What do you know like the back of your hand?

My speciality has always been psychology, mainly within the scope of social dynamics and emotional intelligence. To be able to read the room was something I’ve always been good at and it lead me to producing promising results as an effective leader.

What about you? You’re born to be a leader but what hard or soft skills can you finesse to bring to the table in order to actualize yourself in this leadership role?

If you don’t ask this question of yourself, you’re only selling you and your team short.

Peter Drucker continues:

“Executives who do not ask themselves, ‘What can I contribute?’ are not only likely to aim too low, they are likely to aim at the wrong things. Above all, they may define their contribution too narrowly.”

When you define your contribution too narrowly, you need up taking yourself out of the operational role of a leader. Use your specialized knowledge to provide widen the girth of your role.


Leadership In The 21st Century

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“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
 — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The old school, hard-driving style of leadership is dead.

Leadership in the 21st century and beyond is community and family oriented. You know why? Because we have the internet. And many people are facilitating relationships through teaching and coaching online in order to get the job done.

Centralized leadership in physical locations is becoming obsolete. This is what Bitcoin and other forms of digital currency built on blockchain technology is all about. No more middle men.

The cost of entry for a path to true leadership is low. When more people start figuring this out, more businesses will start to emerge where people can easily traverse the job market in search for like minded, warm people to work with and “under.”

In other words, when the supply of warm hearted, empathetic businesses increase you can say “bye-bye” to working at a shit hole factory or office terrible leadership.

We see evidence of this shift from the spike in zoom meetings due to the coronavirus pandemic. What this is teaching us is that remote work is the future. We’re no longer obligated to work next to one another in a stuffy office or warehouse. The physical encroachment of low vibrational management is losing its grip on the workplace.

If you happen to be in the start-up world and you’re reading this, you better major in the kinds of soft skills that will attract the best of the best software developers, graphic designers, photographers, videographers, writers, teachers, etc.

The landscape has changed. Many have not caught on yet. But by reading this article by a person who has experience with people in a large capacity, you’re ahead of the curve.


Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity & Ambiguity(V.U.C.A.)

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“The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.” — John Maxwel

You may have been one of the many people who didn’t know where to turn when shelves were being emptied, when the stock market crashed, when you lost your job and many of the other shockwaves this pandemic has sent through the system.

I find that the main issue behind this anxiety and panic doesn’t necessarily stem from the circumstances themselves but people’s inability to deal with the circumstances in a practical manner as they are presented to them.

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the fact that many of us were just not prepared. With the “new normal” afoot, anxiety will not get any better, especially with the chance that a second outbreak is probable with the country re-opening little by little.

Spending 6 years in a leadership role has prepared me for dealing with unforeseen events on the fly. I’ve garnered the skills and mindset required for dealing with stressful situations, no matter what they are.

Drawing on theories from Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, the VUCA acronym was formed to reflect on the Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity of general circumstances and situations.

The concept of VUCA was officially introduced by the U.S. Army War College and was more frequently used within the context of strategic leadership that applies to a wide array of sectors ranging from corporations to educational institutions.

I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty in this article but here are some key points you need to get familiar with when it comes to V.U.C.A.

  • Your playing field, whether it’s the office or the warehouse is constantly in flux. You need to be ready to adapt. You need to create a system for taking in data everyday so that you can successfully set the stage for managing and leading your resources.
  • You also need to take inventory of the resources you have available to you. Who on your team is available for the day? What do they specialize in? Who’s the weakest link and how can you edify them?
  • Hardcore planning is not advisable. Your plans, no matter how “great,” provides little certainty after exposure to the opposition. You must be ready to adapt. This is where the yielding nature of leadership comes into play. Rigidity is brittle. You must be flexible and learn when to give like the structures that were built to withstand earthquakes in California.

Master your ability to pivot. You must be adept, agile and quick-witted in times of uncertainty. Can you use your awareness of processes as well as people skills and bring these two together in order to meet a specific series of goals?


Always Be The Bigger Person, That’s Because You Are

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“People who are truly strong lift others up. People who are truly powerful bring others together.”
 — Michelle Obama

You have to be the bigger person because you are the bigger person. They say, “with great power comes great responsibility.” It is your responsibility to take the high road every chance you get.

You possess a vision that’s much bigger than any petty squabble or beef.

This is not to say that you won’t get into any petty beefs but afterward you will see the futility in it and you won’t do it again. You’ll learn from it. You’ll see that it’s a waste of energy.

You’re going to have people in your group who think they can do your job better than you can. Cool. Let them think that. And when your time is up, maybe you can gladly pass the torch to them.

They too will learn that leadership is much more than their narrow minded view.


Respect

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“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” — Sheryl Sanberg, COO of Facebook

In order to get respect, you have to give respect, sometimes disproportionately. Being a leader is about treating everyone the way you want to be treated. If you don’t treat people with respect, don’t expect any in return.

Leadership is about acknowledging each and everyone of your team members. Your job is to unite everyone under a super ordinate goal but you also recognize their individual effort and help them get what they want from their role as well.

In order to do this, you give them enough room to perform the task at hand without micro-management. Respect is garnered through trust. This means getting off their backs, allowing them to work and coaching, not directing them when needed.

While allowing for the much sought after autonomy, you’re going to have a team member who fumbles the ball. Your job is to roll your sleeves up and get your hands dirty with them. This is called leading from the front. This is how you get true, lasting respect that echoes well into the future.


The Takeaway

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Leadership is one of those things that take years to develop. It starts before you enter into a specific leadership role, typically as a subordinate yourself.

If I can emphasize only one thing, it would be accountability. To possess a high level of accountability makes a huge impact on your ability to provide high quality leadership that your team members will thank you for throughout the years to come.

You never know, you just might permanently change someone’s life for the better with your leadership style and capabilities.

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