For many people, being a leader sounds exciting. It is not uncommon to hear someone say, “I would just like to be in charge.” Another common phrase I have heard is, “If I was in charge, things would be different.”
I was 38 years old the first time I was asked to take on a leadership role. I have to confess, my view of leaders and leadership prior to going into an administrative role was not very favourable. I looked at those in leadership as the ones who wore a shirt and tie, sat in air-conditioned offices, had no clue what was going on and didn’t actually care what I was going through. The summary was basically that they were a group of people who didn’t do much work; they just sat around and talked all day. It is funny that years later my children told their friends that their dad used to work, but now he just talks all day!
I never aspired to be a leader. In fact, I did my best to make sure I kept my distance from them. I wanted to be unnoticed, do my job and complain about their shortcomings.
Little did I know that someday I would be one of those leaders that others talk about. My plan to be a power technician for the rest of my days was turned upside down in 1993. One day I was a mechanic; the next day I was part of a leadership team. My eyes were about to be opened. I would be buying a new wardrobe. Actually, for the first time in my life, I would have something that would resemble a wardrobe! Shirts, ties (we were still in the era of wearing ties to work), dress pants, sports coat, dress socks … the whole nine yards. That turned out to be the easy part of being a leader, especially because Sandy got great joy in outfitting me for that new position!
Suddenly, as a leader, I had to think about others. Decisions that I thought were easy weren’t as easy. I had to take into consideration people’s feelings and opinions. An engine does as it’s told. It doesn’t talk back, and it doesn’t have emotions. Humans are a totally different breed! They do have emotions; they do talk back, and they have different points of view.
I discovered many things quickly. My communication method all my life had been verbal. All of a sudden, communication had to be written. And every word you put on paper was there forever, and it could be taken wrong. People might read between the lines and assume you meant one thing when you really meant something completely different.
I made some huge mistakes right out of the gate. When you become a leader, you suddenly have power, and you can hugely impact people’s lives. It is so tempting to abuse that power, which I unintentionally did in my first couple of weeks. I had knowledge because of my position that others didn't have and I used that knowledge to take advantage of a situation. Fortunately, I had a great mentor who called me into his office and read me the riot act. He told me if I ever did that again, I wouldn’t be a leader very long. I learned fast! And what an important lesson to learn; from that point, on I was careful to never abuse the power of leadership.
Another lesson I learned was that there are not just two sides to every story; there are actually three. It is important when you are dealing with people that you listen to both sides of the story before you make a decision. The third side? In my experience, the actual truth is found somewhere between the two stories. This is important because you have to determine the real story to make a good decision.
Leaders are human. We all make mistakes. One mentor pointed out that if nine out of every ten decisions you make are good decisions, then your batting average is very high. Why is this so important? Leaders can tend to think that perfection is required of them. While that would be nice, it isn’t possible. You can spend a lot of time beating yourself up over bad decisions when you are just as human as all those you are leading.
If you were to ask me what is the most important quality that a leader needs to have, I would say this: they have to be able to make decisions. If you can’t make a decision or multiple decisions each day, you cannot be a leader. Decision making is largely what defines the quality of the leader.
Early in my years as a leader, my mentor gave me this illustration of the life of a leader. He said leading is very much like a game of poker. A poker player needs chips to get into a poker game. In the life of a poker game, the player will win chips, and he will lose them. If you are winning, you get more chips and you can play on; however, if you are losing and you run out of chips, you are no longer allowed to play in the game.
Leaders are much the same. They are winning and loosing chips all the time. If a decision is made and everyone agrees with it, you typically win chips. If you make a decision and no one agrees with it, you lose chips. The important thing is to make sure you always have chips to play with. Once a leader has no chips left, he isn’t leading anymore. In other words, he has no followers, and you can only be a leader when you have people following you.
In the Bible there were many leaders. Some were good, and many were not so good. There are those who led to be noticed and were self-serving. In Scripture we see that God is the example to follow. While I have had mentors through my years in leadership, it is Scripture that has given me the best example of how to lead. Christ was the perfect leader. He didn’t lead from a power position; rather, he led by example and led with a servant’s attitude.
What about you? Are you in a leadership position? Maybe you have some gem that you would like to share with us about a life lesson that has made you a better leader. Is your model for leading based on Scripture or on secular leadership methodologies? If you aren’t in a formal leadership position, what are your thoughts about what I have shared in this blog? Drop us a note. I would love to hear from you.