What is a leader? By definition a leader is a person who leads or commands a group, organization or country. So, based on this definition, it seems like leaders are limited to CEOs, presidents of companies and country leaders (Presidents, Prime Ministers, etc) right? Well, I am here to tell you that I am a leader. I am not a CEO, I am not a president of a company and I am not a leader of a country. I am a Consultant working for Summit 7 Systems.
So, how can I be a leader? Well, being a leader is not just based on a “role” you have earned. There are many qualities that you can have or work on developing to help you become a better leader.
One of the best books I have read that has helped me understand and work on my leadership skills is “The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader” by John C. Maxwell. There are many books out there to help define characteristics of a leader, but this one stood out to me as very inspiring and if you get an opportunity to read it I would highly encourage you to. After reading this book, doing other research and taking from my own experiences, I have found that implementing five major qualities has helped me to become the person that I am today and bettered my leadership skills. These qualities are Communication, Initiative, Integrity, Passion and Responsibility. By working on these five qualities, you will see your leadership opportunities increase and your leadership skills improve even more.
Let us take a trip back in time, to start where and when I wanted to take on more of a leadership role. I have always wanted to be involved with activities in my schooling days and one day I was given an opportunity to be a Resident Assistant (R.A.) for the University of Alabama in Huntsville. I worked in this position for four years, earning the role of Senior Resident Assistant my fourth year. Throughout those four years, I improved on each of the qualities mentioned earlier, boosting my leadership skills role.
Now, I know what you may be thinking, “Resident Assistants are just rule enforcers.” Well you are partially right - they do enforce rules, but that is not their only responsibility. R.As are actually one of the University’s major leaders. How, you ask? In order to be successful, they need to possess the five qualities described below:
- Communication - As a leader, it is necessary that communication be open and just as important to keep others informed of what is going on. During my role as a Senior Resident Assistant, I was responsible for guiding a group of 5 Resident Assistants. I was always in communication with each one of them about how everything was going, any issues they had and would always ask them if they had any questions for me. Ending every conversation with a chance for them to speak or ask any questions allowed for open communication between all of us and gave me a chance to answer their questions in private to clear up any misunderstandings or miscommunication.
- Initiative - Taking the initiative to do something sets you apart from other leaders. Recently, our team took the initiative to re-invent a process within the company that was not clearly documented. We recognized a problem, talked through it, came up with a solution, gathered feedback from others and implemented it. After implementing the solution, the company was able to see the process improvement and recognized the entire group for our efforts.
- Integrity - As a leader, keeping your integrity is important not only to protect your own morals, but to also show those you are leading that you can be trusted and not swayed in any way. There will be times in which every leader will face a difficult decision. The key is to take your time with the decision, walk through the details and then look at it against your own morals. If the decision goes against your morals, deciding against it will not reflect badly on your leadership. Instead, those who look to you to lead will respect you more for maintaining your integrity.
- Passion - Leadership without passion is like cookies without milk, it is just wrong. If you want to be a leader, then be a leader. Be ready to invest in it. I remained working as an R.A. for four years, because it was something I loved. I had passion for the role and was making every effort to better myself each year. I did this for all the right reasons. Yes it helped pay for college, but I continued with it for four years because I loved doing it. I recognized the important skills I was gaining from the experience and how those skills would help me in my career. My passion reflected through my work and through my friendships that I gained along the way. Through your passion, others will become passionate, it is just that contagious.
- Responsibility - Being responsible is more about making sure you as a leader follow through. As a consultant, I have found that there will always be tasks assigned to me. I am expected to complete these tasks by a certain deadline and if they aren’t complete it is my responsibility to deal with the consequences. Many times I have felt the expectation is solely on me to complete the task. This can be true for most situations, but I have also learned that asking for help is necessary at times. Think of yourself as the leader of the task that is assigned to you. It is your responsibility to complete the task utilizing your skills and other resources provided to you. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it instead shows that you are responsible and can help to increase your knowledge and allow you to learn and grow as a leader.
Keeping these qualities in mind can help you to develop your own leadership style and are not limited to any particular position. Everyone in every job has an opportunity to be a leader. All it takes is the will to want to be a leader. Remember that “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” —John Maxwell