Do you know what it’s like to lead 1,000 people?
No? What about 500? 100? 50?
If you’re average like me, chances are your leadership experience is limited to groups of (mathematically speaking) a handful or so, or thereabouts, give or take a few. Believe it or not, most leaders are just like you and me — leading small groups and influencing in small ways.
The average Jane business owner in the U.S. leads a troop of only about 16 employees. (source: Bureau of Labor Statistics [pdf]). Average Joe teacher over at the public high school leads a gaggle of about 23 students. (source: National Center for Education Statistics). And if you don’t own a business or teach algebra, your leadership experience is probably limited to a small pod of ten Girl Scouts, or seven adult Sunday School students, or even one, lonely home owner’s association secretary.
If you’re one of these average people who lead the proverbial baker’s dozen or less, here is my message for you:
Your leadership matters.
Leadership isn’t just for the big guys. It’s not just about making billion dollar decisions and selling your 5-year vision. Leadership, at any level, begins with the skill of influencing people effectively to pursue a shared cause or goal. As John Maxwell succinctly puts it: “Leadership is influence.” As a leader, you have influence, and developing a few simple influencing skills can enhance your effectiveness as a leader without the expense of an executive coach or MBA.
Here’s a few tips any average Joe or Jane can apply to lead more effectively:
1. Remember your place.
You are the influencer. People are looking to you for leadership, so don’t be afraid to lead. But at the same time, don’t take it for granted that people will follow you just because you wear the leader hat. Authority doesn’t equal leadership, and compliance (if you get it) doesn’t equal respect.
2. Earn the right.
Leadership isn’t an inalienable privilege of those in authority. The right to lead is a gift bestowed by the respect of others, and respect is always earned. Your team, group, students, employees, or family will grant it to you when you demonstrate that you can be trusted to lead competently with their interest in mind. That paycheck you issue your employees doesn’t buy respect, and the “boss” sign on your parking spot doesn’t even come close.
3. Mind your manners.
Yes, manners matter. Minding your P’s and Q’s boils down to treating others with respect, and you’re much more likely to earn respect when your behavior communicates, “You are important; I respect you.”
In corporate environments, respectful treatment of others is the face of professionalism. But this principle is just as important for parents and teachers. Respect is earned by leaders who create a culture which ensures that each everyone is treated respectfully by others in the group.
4. Build relationships.
Respected leaders take an interest in the individuals they lead. They care about Bill’s anniversary, Pedro’s vacation, and whether Barbara’s doing okay after losing her dad. Half of your credibility as the leader is built on your competence in managing relationships. (The other half is built on your expertise).
If this sounds too touchy-feely to you, just remember how you responded years ago when a special teacher or coach took an interest in you as a person, not just a student or player. Remember that feeling? Remember how you wanted to perform for that leader? You want to inspire that kind of motivation in others.
5. Show up first.
Even if your leadership situation is informal, meaning you don’t lead from an official role or position, showing up first is half the battle. This means that you suggest and arrange the meeting. You volunteer to create the agenda. You initiate the conversations that generate shared goals and plans. By doing this with a genuine just-trying-to-help attitude, people will instinctively begin looking to you — and trusting you — as the de facto leader.
6. Communicate proactively.
Don’t wait for questions; anticipate them. Don’t rely on last week’s newsletter; follow up with a brief “looking ahead” email. Give people a heads up well before they need to know, and do it via multiple channels. Then, do it again.
People appreciate the thoughtfulness of a leader who communicates proactively because knowing what’s coming reduces stress. Yes, it is possible to annoy people by over-communicating, but the more common (and more stress-producing) blunder is under-communication.
Your leadership matters. Your team matters. Your skills and growth as a leader matter. So give it your best, starting with these tips. You’ll find them relevant for any leadership role you’ll ever hold. Sure, there’s a lot more to wise and skillful leadership, but these basics will benefit any leader. Learn them well and those around you may begin to consider you more than just average.
Do you have a go-to tip for leaders? Please share it in the comments! Thank you!
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