Three foundations of leadership
23 November 2021
How much do you value a poorly told mediocre story by someone you don’t trust?
Hold that thought for a minute.
Three things must be true for a leader to successfully serve. They are deep topics, and these few paragraphs here are something like a rough, simple outline, however, they must exist in order for a leader to be successful.
The first: a leader must have a coherent story that leads in a specific direction. You must know where you are going and why. Importantly, you are the first person that must understand where you are going, why you are doing it, and the ultimate goal. How can people follow you, be inspired by you or be helpful to you if they don’t know your story? A critical part to that story is what the value of it is to the employees.
“Story” might sound too soft or prompt images of Hansel & Gretel – but before you let yourself think that, picture the other people in your life, even your biggest customer or competitor in business. You tell yourself a story about them – we all understand others through story, even if we don’t call it that specifically.
That is how we understand much of the world around us: “well that must mean this and this, so that’s how that happened” is just a story.
- To get clarity about yours, think openly about your story. Write, talk to others (especially if they will hold you accountable for making sense eventually), and ask a lot of careful questions. A coach, trusted friend or mentor helps a lot with this.
The second thing a leader needs is the ability to communicate. You need to be able to tell your story so that other people understand it, plus why it’s meaningful to you, to them and to the world in general. You also need to know how to communicate the way in which your business can travel through your story and achieve its goals.
What will you do if you can’t communicate how and why your secure dog-sitting SAAS plugin for underground animal shelters is worth time and effort? Just pay people and give them tasks every day?
- Being able to communicate is a skill, and it’s learnable and improves over time if you practice it. It also helps to have a coherent story to tell – even the best communicator in the world will fail if the story is lousy.
The third thing that’s necessary for a new (or any) leader to survive is trust. Both “they” (the people you lead) and you must trust your story, what you say, and how you behave.
I have been asked many times “how to get someone to trust me.” Although there are some manipulative and malevolent outliers, people will generally trust someone until they have a reason not to.
- Think carefully about what you done, said, and the decisions you’ve made. Are they consistent? If not, what can you change or stop so that they are? Again, some sort of external but personal accountability here will help greatly.
This is the ground upon which great leadership can grow and thrive. While there are all sorts of tactics in leadership, some of them are quite interesting and can be valuable to a leader only after these three things exist. Fortunately we can cultivate them with practice, diligence and honesty.
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