Many years ago, I took a walk with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. We were talking about an opportunity and I was expressing my concern that I would not be a good fit for the role being offered. He was a bit shocked that I had anything to worry about and he told me “you will be in charge … the people will have to do what you tell them”. I knew he was wrong, but I don’t think I could have put my finger on why that wasn’t right.
Now I believe I know. You have to be a leader to lead, and just being in charge does not make you a leader. Think about the people you know who get things done. Chances are they are not necessarily the people with the title or the authority. I can think of the names of leaders in our company who are able to influence others and make things happen. These people accept responsibility, work hard, and learn about the people they work with, getting to know their interests and strengths and goals.
This person is not telling others what to do. They are setting out what needs to be done – what is the goal – and they are making connections up, down, and across the team to complete a task or achieve a big objective. They are “painting a picture” of what is possible and they are building a network of collaborators.
Leaders are always learning. They ask questions, read books, take courses, and are always open to thinking about and trying alternative ways of solving problems. They don’t say things like “we have always done it this way”. Leaders are always willing to share what they know and who they know with others. They know that by helping the person beside them to improve their skills and knowledge, or expand their network, they are making themselves and the whole team stronger.
I often think about that walk many years ago, and what my life would have been like if I believed that CEO and taken that position. I’m glad I didn’t.