Ever so often in life you are offered opportunities that you didn’t realize you were being prepared for. In those opportunities you develop the necessary grit to sustain you for the journey that becomes your calling. This serendipitous moment happened for me when I was 15 years old standing at the back of a funeral home watching as people came to pay their respects to a woman I dearly loved and admired, my grandmother. It was in this moment I felt very alone and lost for the first time. My grandmother was the matriarch of our family and she was a spiritual and literal mentor in my own life. In that moment God was stirring in me growth, but growth often times comes cloaked in pain, loss and heartache.
Leadership starts on the inside. It is not a title, or possession or even technically a role. It is a state of being. It is a mentality. It is a heart posture. This is why it is best addressed from the inside out first. But the reality is that often times when we think of leadership we picture someone who is well spoken, who has a following and is distinguished amongst his or her peers in some external way. So when we want to replicate leaders in our community or business we lean towards offering titles, possessions, and some sort of superiority. I’m not knocking this approach as negative or wrong. I’m not even suggesting that it be eradicated. My question is that if you were to strip a person from these external factors would a leaders still exist and if not how do we know that he or she has the grit to bear the burdens that these external factors present. For example a tree goes through many seasons and changes. Some of those seasons it is beautiful, bearing much fruit and colorful leaves. But there are seasons where storms hit and branches, leaves and fruit are taken away. But still yet it is a tree. The external had very little to do with it. It was the unexposed roots and the proper soil that determined whether the tree would stand. But it took weathering to expose it capacity.
The day that I lost my grandmother was a pivotal marker for me; it was a storm that shook my foundation. But she had cultivated the spiritual leadership seed in my heart. She had lived in front of me the tools to weather the storms. It was my turn to use those tools. It was my turn to show my grit to bear the storm, the winds of change that would usher in a season of personal leadership development. It has been my belief that good leadership is born from the heart. It is cultivated through experiences that expose them to developing the right type of grit to weather the storms and to become strong, positive, and impacting leaders in their community and businesses. To be a good leader is to have a heart. The storms of life will expose those who do not. We have all experienced those without heart. Don’t let the experiences of poor tyrannical leadership detour you from being the good leader you have on the inside of you.
Listed below are what I call the UP Traits of good leaders and some ways to cultivate these in your own life should this be a personal growth aspiration. (UP stands for Understanding & Persistence)
Understandings in a Good Leader:
I. The first understanding of a good leader is your self. This is not defined by titles, possessions, to do lists, or even your personal or professional affiliations/relationships, nor is it defined by circumstances. Leaders understand there identity is much deeper. It is in knowing your core beliefs, fears, desires, gifts & limitations that unlock your true identity as a leader.
II. The second understanding of a leader is personal responsibility for your beliefs, fears, desires, gifts and limitations. When leaders pawn off the power of their own identity to others or circumstances then they reduce their personal will to be a better leader to minimal potential and are in a position of digressing or loosing a grip of realistic expectations. Tyranny is right around the corner for these lost leaders.
Ways to Develop Understanding
Ø If you have a hard time answering the above identity areas (beliefs, fears, desires, gifts and limitations) then I suggest writing out on a piece of paper each area separately. Narrow the field of focus by asking what are your 5 areas of identity in the categories of either leadership or personal life. Take your time.
Ø Personal leadership needs a litmus test. A way to do this is to first identify which of the 5 areas are you struggling the most with. Then write out in 3 to 5 bullet points on potential causes of the struggle. Pick one of the bullet points that you will work on. Write out how you will work towards improving this area of struggle. It must be measureable improvements. My last suggestion is to find an accountability partner.
Persistence in a Good Leader:
I. Good leaders know that in order to win the race you must be prepared and that means for good weather and for bad. Persistence in these five areas: continuous learning, frugality, physical and mental health, as well as in personal growth is important to personal leadership sustainability. When leaders get sloppy it shows in more ways then one and often times causes them credibility with peers and clients.
II. Good leaders know walking the walk had better match your talk. Always strive to be a persistent leader of you word, period. I cannot emphasize this enough. I have watched more leaders loose credibility with their public due to a lack of follow through or flip-flopping on their committed word. If you can’t back it up then shut it up. It’s a tough cookie-coaching lesson but it’s the truth. People are more forgiving of “the honest up front let down” then “the over promised under delivered” approach.
Ways to Develop Persistence:
Ø As a leader what do you need improvement in? Choose one of the 5 areas: continuous learning, frugality, physical health, mental health, or personal growth. Once you have chosen one of these areas set a date to start making efforts towards improving this area of persistence. I will also posture the idea of an accountability partner, but regardless this has to be your doing not theirs.
Ø Being a person of your word takes time to build and inevitably there will be times that you make mistakes. The best way to prevent yourself from getting into these predicaments is to create Scripts. This means if you know you have a hard time saying no even when you know it is impossible for you to accomplish a task then develop a script that offers you an alternative to the word no. For example if you have a tough client/team member with high demands then you might say “ Mr./Mrs. Smith I would be happy to help you but the next available time, or date will be on”; or “Mr./Mrs. Smith that is an excellent suggestion but unfortunately we are not set up to handle that request at this time.” Scripts save us from ourselves. They also can build incredible trust from the most difficult customers/team members since you are upfront, transparent and courteous. But you have to start somewhere and stick with it.
My hope is that you take away a nugget of gold from this blog even if that nugget is merely awareness of where good leadership begins. Success to you and your journey!