What Is My “State of Leadership”?

There are countless books, articles, seminars, videos, and yes, blog posts, about what constitutes a great leader. And many, if not most, are credible and helpful in discerning what characteristics make up a great leader, and even how to learn to become a great leader. I have personally read scores of books, hundreds (maybe thousands!) of articles, and attended more than sixty seminars and conferences on leadership in the last twenty years. I have been fortunate to experience the teachings of such leadership gurus as John C. Maxwell, Tom Peters, Ken Blanchard, Marshall Goldsmith, Jim Collins, Jack Welch, Patrick Lencioni, Peter Drucker, and many others. I have also been blessed to have experienced leadership training from those in the Christian community— Bill Hybels, Henry Blackaby, Jerry White, Richard Blackaby, and others. They may not have the same mainstream name recognition, but they have been just as important, if not more important, to my leadership development.

I share this because I think that many who see themselves as leaders and have a sincere desire to grow in their leadership abilities seek out these leadership gurus for their teaching and advice. But then they struggle with discerning between the nuances in each of the leadership philosophies presented. Which ones are right, or which is right for me? How do I cultivate and improve my leadership abilities while also cultivating those leadership skills and abilities in those I lead—my leadership team? What’s really important in the process, and what is not?

In my own leadership journey, I have developed a list of leadership characteristics. I certainly do not claim these to be proprietary or unique. They were developed as I learned from others and made notes from reading, though there may be a few that are unique to my own thought process. Successful leaders will have a good, solid mixture of these characteristics (in no specific order):

  • Leaders don’t need to know it all.
  • Leaders are influencers—visionaries.
  • Leaders have the ability to think clearly and conceptually.
  • Mistakes are learning opportunities.
  • Leaders are lifetime learners.
  • Leaders have the ability to compromise with others for the benefit of “ownership.”
  • Titles don’t make you a leader.
  • Leaders allow other to lead.
  • Leaders accept and use authority appropriately.
  • Leaders have the ability to develop and maintain trusting relationships. This is critical to their success.
  • They have the ability to debate issues without always winning the debate.
  • Leading teams to success is more important then personal success.
  • Leaders need to be able to manage themselves.
  • Leaders are agents of change.
  • Leaders demonstrate high levels of integrity.
  • Leaders have high ethical standards.
  • Leaders demonstrate moral courage.
  • Leaders serve others.
  • Leaders encourage, equip, and empower those they lead.

Everyone is a leader to someone and should have some of the characteristics above to successfully lead. Those who lead successful organizations and teams will not only have God-given leadership gifts, but they will also actively cultivate the leadership skills and characteristics listed above. While we can certainly learn and grow from academic enhancement, reading, and attending conferences and seminars, it is critically important that we have a mentor and other quality leaders we can engage with on a regular basis so we can grow in our own leadership abilities.

In my own leadership journey over the past forty years, I have found it extremely helpful from time to time to engage outside counsel to provide an unbiased assessment of not only my own “state of leadership,” but also the state of leadership of my leadership team or board. Sometimes an outsider can ask the probing questions and discern the “state of leadership” that may be difficult for us to see on our own. As mentioned in the list of characteristics, leaders need to be lifetime learners. Leaders should never be afraid of honest assessment. Sometimes it provides the greatest opportunities for growth. The key is finding the right person to do the assessment, listening to the results, and having the courage to move forward on recommendations for the benefit of all, not just the leader.

As you contemplate your own “state of leadership” or that of your team, maybe it’s time to seek the input and advice of others.

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