The Leader Within

2012 by Garza

As a leadership coach, I’m often asked what leadership is. There are many ways to answer the question.

One is to make the distinction between leaders and managers. You’ve heard some of them: Leaders create vision, managers reach goals. Leaders initiate change, managers cultivate stability. Leaders see opportunities, managers see problems.

Another is to recite one of the many bite-sized definitions of leadership that are out there, like this nice one by leadership experts Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs in their book Leadership Agility: “Leadership is action taken with a proactive attitude and an intention to change something for the better.”

If I sense interest, I might even refer to Zenger & Folkman’s five tent poles of leadership from The Extraordinary Leader – character, personal capability, a focus on results, interpersonal skills, and the ability to produce change.

No matter how I answer, I’ve noticed that people usually come to a conversation about leadership with the idea that leadership is something that concerns the upper echelons of an organization. We usually don’t think about how leadership principles might apply to those of us who are nowhere to be found on an organizational chart.

I think this narrow view about leadership overlooks that each of us, in our own way, is a leader — in fact, a leader with an exceedingly important constituency: Ourselves and our careers.

Think about it. What would your career be like if you were more intentional about creating a vision for it, initiating positive change to achieve that vision, and seeing problems and failures along the way not as obstacles but as opportunities?

Or take those five tent poles of leadership. Whether or not your organization has designated you as a leader, aren’t the poles that hold up the tent of leadership also critical for the architecture of an intentional career? Consider:

Character: This is the center pole of the leadership tent. It also is the backbone of an intentional career.

Personal capability: Just as an organizational leader needs to demonstrate skills that are relevant to his or her position (technical knowledge, analytical ability and the like), a person in charge of an intentional career needs to focus on developing the skills that are relevant to the job the person has or the job the person wants.

A focus on results: To be effective, an organizational leader needs to establish appropriate stretch goals and take personal responsibility for the outcome. A person who wants to be more effective in his or her career can do it by being thoughtful about setting goals and then “owning” them.

Interpersonal skills. Many experts believe the one thing that separates a great leader from a good leader is a strong set of interpersonal skills. The ability to build positive relationships, emotional intelligence (being aware of and managing your own emotions and the emotions of others), and strong communication skills all are important for effective organizational leadership. It’s not hard to see what powerful tools these attributes would be for the person who wants to build a more rewarding career.

Ability to produce change. Some organizations needs a leader who is good at maintaining the status quo, but an organization that is in transition – most are or will be – needs a leader who champions change, understands how change relates to the organization’s vision, and translates the vision into meaningful goals. Imagine how your career might look different if you took a leadership approach to unleashing your potential for positive change.

So reconsider what leadership means to you. If you haven’t thought of yourself as a leader before, think about what it would be like to step into the role of chairman and CEO of a most important enterprise: Yourself and your career.

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