“Leadership is not about being in charge.
Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.”
~ Simon Sinek.
I developed my leadership skills running a street workout team, a coaching team, a hackathon team, and a startup. In this section, I want to talk about the role of leadership in life and what it means to be a good leader. First, let’s look into a set of leadership mindsets.
Mindset #1. Leadership is a skill.
No one is born a leader. Leadership is not a God-given talent. It is a skill completely attainable by anyone. Of course, some prerequisites to leadership that are defined at the moment of birth, such as extraversion for example, indeed facilitate the development of leadership skills, however, in case you are an introvert don’t get discouraged. Being an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t be a leader. Introversion is just a personality trait, not a diagnosis. The extraversive side of personality can be trained by experiencing social situations.
Another common misbelief is that great charisma is exclusively a product of good looks, a golden ticket drawn in a genetic lottery. Although appearance does play a significant role in it, this is not an effective way to think about charisma. What others got for free may be considered as something of value but the qualities hard-earned with dedication are priceless. Work with what you have. Reinforce the strengths given to you by nature meanwhile working through your weaknesses. Act in spite of negative self-talk. Strong leadership skills start with a deep conviction that becoming a leader can and must be an attainable goal.
Mindset #2. Leadership is a choice.
Orison Swett Marden the founder of Success magazine wrote: “Don’t wait for extraordinary opportunities. Seize common occasions and make them great.” This is what leadership really is — a choice to act whenever there is an opening.
Leaders choose to explore the frontier when others shy away. What’s truly important is that leaders own the aftermath of their choices. They choose to act even if there is a risk that their actions may unfold into negative scenarios.
Only those who do nothing make no mistakes. Good leaders understand that failure is inherent to decision-making. They try to do as many mistakes as possible as early as possible so that they could learn and iterate upon real-life feedback.
Leadership is a deep understanding that throwing yourself into a situation and learning how to deal with it in the process is, as a matter of fact, the fastest way to internalize life experience and reach the next level of your becoming. The ability to make such leaps of faith is the core of real charisma.
Mindset #3. Leadership is an instrument of self-development.
In one year of running a street workout team, my body and my willpower transformed beyond recognition. In my startup days, I always learned more than my team-members because every time there was a collision with an obstacle, I was at the avant-garde taking the full impact. These experiences led me to conclude that leadership can be seen as a form of positive egoism. The struggle exclusive to pioneers is inseparable from the privilege to reap the most value from collective challenges.
Leaders adopt a mindset that being proactive and gaining negative experience is far better than doing nothing playing it safe. They see the adversity that comes with leadership as an opportunity to self-improve. Embrace the discomfort of being on the frontline — that is where all the beautiful transformations take place.
Mindset #4. Leadership is an effective way of living.
Good things happen to those who take the initiative. A leader who brought the project to fruition receives recognition for success regardless of whether he wants it or not. A wise leader is humble and requires no special treatment however his teammates will give him all the attention and accolades thinking that it is only proper to praise the one who led them to the victorious finale. This is the natural order of things. An alpha-status in the pack comes with alpha-privileges.
What do good leaders do?
Credit for this section goes to Simon Sinek, the best mind in the leadership industry. He makes a living teaching CEOs how to increase the efficiency of their companies through leadership and he is great at what he does. His books, his talks, his expertise in leadership are all fascinating. Throughout his career, one of the main questions he is trying to answer was: “What do good leaders do?” Let’s walk through some key insights on this matter.
#1. Leaders start with “Why?”
“How do I motivate people to work hard?” — this is a common question of all managers who try to increase the efficiency of their business. In his TED talk “How great leaders inspire action”, Simon Sinek explains the mechanisms behind inherent motivation. The only way to motivate people to work hard is to ensure that their line of work is well-aligned with their core values. The best managers have exceptional empathic abilities which make them excellent at assessing the situation from the perspective of the people they lead. They understand that through work an employee seeks ways to realize his personal goals, fulfill his expectations about the future, accomplish their mission, and self-actualize. Good leaders start with “why”.
#2. Leaders eat last.
In his book, “Leaders eat last” Simon Sinek explains one of the core ideas of his philosophy of leadership.
In nature, for example in a lion pride, an alpha lion eats first. His right to get the best piece is respected by other lions — this privilege is a ritual that represents his place in the pride.
Animals are not civilized but we are. We appear to have outgrown our primitive cultures of the past so we no longer use such rituals to designate the hierarchy inside our social systems. Through trials and tests, we came to realize that systems where a leader considers his interests above the interests of other group members are unproductive. If the leader “eats first” some displeased followers will inevitably riot and his leadership will self-destruct.
A true leader is generous and is willing to sacrifice his resources to build an organization where everyone feels safe and appreciated. A person who feels appreciated will always exceed expectations.
#3. Leaders lead by example.
Do you know what is the difference between a boss and a leader? A boss whips people from behind sitting on the top of the load. A leader pulls the load harder than anyone standing first in the relay.
Leaders are revealed in business. For instance, the most productive companies have a set of clear written down values. Company values are supposed to serve as a decision-making compass for employees. Although important, values of the company be they carved in stone mean nothing if the head of the company doesn’t embody them. At the end of the day, the work ethic of the company is the scaled-up version of the work ethic of its leader. The whole organization will collapse like a house of cards if the chief’s actions are inconsistent with his words.
#4. Leaders create environments.
An acclaimed Russian physicist Sergey Kapitsa wrote: “Good management is simply letting good people do their job”.
In point of fact, most people are well aware of the working conditions meeting which would allow them to work at the level of top performance evincing their best selves. Good leadership takes this into consideration — many companies are continuously trying to create environments that would make it easier for people to take responsibility for their work efficiency. Thus, introducing open spaces promotes innovative solutions in ongoing projects, introducing closed — give people an opportunity to deep work.
We already talked about how an environment can be used to enhance personal productivity. In a similar way, an environment must be used to increase the efficiency of a group.
#5. Leaders take responsibility.
I never proclaimed myself a leader. That is not how leadership works. You don’t become a leader just because you said you are one. I was perceived as a leader because I was always doing one particular thing — I was acting when others hesitated and I was taking responsibility for my actions.
Through my work experience I eventually came to realize one thing:
If you want to get something done and done well, do it yourself.
Although it is not a leader’s job to do the work for others, it is worth noting that it is a constant risk to waste time on unnecessary delegation. A leader must always be the hardest worker in the room. In the words of Simon Sinek: “Leadership is not a license to do less. Leadership is a responsibility to do more.”
The scope of a leader’s ultimate responsibility captures four aspects:
- The responsibility for the results he promised to deliver.
- The responsibility for his actions and the consequences of his actions.
- The responsibility for collective success.
- The responsibility for the people who depend on collective success.
A good leader takes all these responsibilities. He understands that taking these responsibilities implies the willingness to be vulnerable. You expose yourself wide open knowing that any of your mistakes may lead to a critical backlash. A great leader builds a team where every single member is ready to take it. A team where everyone strives to adopt a mind of a leader and live responsibly will face no obstacle it cannot overcome.
Leaders make leaders. Seeing how his team-members evolve and knowing that the part of their success can be justly attributed to him — that’s the finest victory of a true leader, his most precious reward.
For a true leader, there is no greater joy than being a source of inspiration, no triumph more glorious than kindling a contagious resolve to act.
Thank you for reading my book “Meditations of the Millennial”.
If you want to support me on my mission, please, share this book with someone you love. Maybe they will find what they seek on its pages.