The thought of being a leader when I was a child, emerging into young adulthood, was not something I considered - even in my wildest imagination.
I was an extreme introvert. During parent/teacher’s conferences, my teachers would happily share their assessment of my grades, but were quick to furrow their brows with concern at the fact that I wouldn’t utter a word in class. Not a single word. My shyness, back then, kept me from finding my authentic voice at the time. In fact, I was teased by bullies in school who felt that the tone and tenor of my actual voice was deep. None of this was a recipe for the making of a leader.
But, as I journeyed to adulthood, the struggle became easier. I put my toe in the water to test the bounds of public speaking – first in smaller groups and eventually in front of larger ones. I discovered something amazing - I had a lot to say! I also knew that I didn’t have a choice if I was to make the kind of impact I sorely desired to make in business, and in the world. I had ideas….some of them were big ideas. Instead of carrying them around in my head, I wanted - and needed - to engage others. I now consider myself a learned extrovert.
So, my own leadership developed as a slowly building engine of necessity, gradually revving up to the place where it felt more natural and powerful.
Now, when I look back at those years and reflect upon my leadership journey – the various roles which I’ve held, the teams that I’ve led, the initiatives which I've been responsible for, etc. – I see leadership as a high calling.
If you feel the same way about leadership, here are four reasons why that calling is so important to embrace:
Leaders solve problems – helping, coaching, mentoring, and serving others to crack the toughest ‘nuts’ in order to find solutions. This kind of leadership forces one to focus on the purpose and not the personal. A focus on the larger purpose is what energizes people and teams to make significant and sustainable changes for the better.
As a leader, it must always be about results. Big, inspired thinking without results are tantamount to hallucinations. We must both understand what needle we’re trying to move and be rigorous about ways that actually help to move it. Being busy is one of the largest traps for leaders. Hyper-focus on the urgent v. the important is what keeps calendars packed, leaders exhausted and key work untouched. Leadership is an endless drive towards results. A jammed schedule is not necessarily an indication of great leadership. 'White space' on the calendar, on the other hand, is an indication that a leader is focused on spending her energies in the most high-impact directions.
Leaders open doors for others to find their own callings and purpose. Our roles as leaders are to help others find the right doors that play to their strengths and interests. Strengths without interests - or vice versa - is an incomplete equation. Leaders help people complete those equations through patience, trial and error and, most importantly, candor about what’s working and what’s not working.
Leaders are required to make the tough decisions. Decisions move entities forward. Decisions change things. Of course, the wrong decisions move entities in the wrong direction. Therefore, tough decision-making requires discipline. It requires the type of leadership which zeroes in on the ‘what’, ‘who’, ‘where’ and ‘how’ of decisions. This is hard work with enormous payoffs. For businesses to succeed, leaders must embrace this role and not shrink from it.
These dimensions of leadership are among many that, for me, have shaped a calling. I now embrace it. I don’t always like it or feel like walking in it – but it’s something that I consider a privilege to do.
What about you? If someone were to ask you what your calling is, what would you say?