The stronger the relationship you form with followers, the greater the connection you forge—and the more likely those followers will be to want to help you. –John C. Maxwell on leadership
Leadership, in its very simplest form, means that someone has influence—and it should never be confused with a person’s title. John C. Maxwell (whose work I highly recommend if you haven’t read him yet) speaks to the position myth in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, unpacking the idea that having a title such as CEO or Managing Director magically gives someone great leadership abilities. Maxwell quotes Stanley Huffty, noting, “It’s not the position that makes the leader; it’s the leader that makes the position.” And by the way, that’s ANY position, whether you have a team of direct reports or not. From the cleaning staff to the C-Suite, it’s someone’s personality and leadership capability that makes their position a boom or a bust. This was something I didn’t always understand. In my younger, pre-Maxwell, days I even said I wanted to be a CEO just because I thought that was the only way to actually be seen as influential or powerful. I just wanted to make some sort of impact… I was so naïve.
I took my first “big-SHE job” as an Administrative Assistant in a State Agency because I was going straight to grad school full-time and wanted something that would be a little mindless, but keep me afloat financially. I figured I’d keep someone’s schedule, maybe answer a few phones—the stereotypical assistant-type stuff, right? That wasn’t what happened.
Have you ever heard someone say to be kind to the assistant because they’re the one that really runs things? Yeah, that shit is true, and my mind was blown.
Everyone came to me for everything.No, I don’t mean everyone came to me to schedule conference rooms (though that happened, too). They came to ask for my opinions, my thoughts, for knowledge on policies and procedures, etc. I had power to create new procedures or take on more responsibilities if I chose—something I never thought possible in a “simple” administrative role. My skills, education, and personality made people see me as influential— and that’s continued in every role I’ve held whether I had direct reports or not.
As for my formal leadership style, I would call myself a situational leader. One of the most important things to understand as a leader is that you can’t just pick one leadership style and say, “Yep. This is it. This will work for everyone!”, because not everyone is the same (I know, shocking!). Situational leadership is kind of one leadership style, but I like to call it more of a theory: that no single leadership style is best; rather, a leader should be able to adjust her leadership styles based on current situations [Get it? It makes things pretty easy to remember]. An important thing to remember is that situational leadership focuses greatly on the people involved in the situation. Yes, that’s right; you need to know your people. I cannot stress that enough. KNOW. YOUR. PEOPLE. I’m not saying you need to know everything about their personal lives and what their second-cousin-twice-removed enjoys for dessert. I’m a strong advocate for boundaries. But you do need to know how they respond to different leadership styles and techniques. How do they respond to criticism and praise? How do they respond to change? Under which management style do they perform best? Which communication styles do they prefer? Etc. Etc. Etc. Saying you know your people is simple, but trust me, actually knowing them and putting that knowledge into leadership practice is a whole different ballgame.
Ultimately, good leadership comes down to awareness. Know yourself and know your people. Be mindful. Take the time to reflect and develop. Leadership is not about a destination, it is about the journey—and you and your team are on that ride together.
SHEs everywhere, this one’s for you!