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March 1, 2004
6 Min Read
In this, the first of an occasional series on leadership, Robert Braido, business development manager at injection molder Filtertek, discusses the critical steps in leadership development: self-awareness and self-assessment.
Many books and articles define the characteristics of a great leader. Great leaders possess distinguishing traits or qualities—motivator, encourager, listener, compassionate, passionate, visionary, mentor, coach, empowerer, and champion. He or she should be trusted to walk the talk. I could go on, but you get the idea. In this article I am going to discuss the dimensions of a leadership compass.
My dad bought me my first compass when I was a Boy Scout. My dad was unique like the compass: He gave me direction and taught me things I could never learn from a book on management theories. I hope this series of articles gives you some direction for your future as a leader or a follower.
An observant follower
Before I start I want to make a statement that has stirred in my mind during my 30 years of experience. Most of us want to be leaders, but to be a great leader you first have to be an observant follower. Observe how it''s done and grow into it. There are a few who instinctively know what to do, but they still need to grow and continue to learn from experience.
When we talk about leadership, we think about leading others. We are all looking on, determining how we can better lead our subordinates, families, and organizations. Now imagine that compass in your hand: Above you to the north you have your superior(s); below you, to the south, you have the associates who you lead; to the east and west you have your peers; and if you are in a matrix organization you have interaction with people at various degrees around the compass. The last dimension is you, the leader within. Have you ever thought about leading yourself? I am referring to self-awareness.
Chuck Swindoll says, "Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you handle it." We have to be aware of who we are to handle the challenges that come our way. Bill Hybels in his book, Courageous Leadership, says a leader must learn to lead up, down, and laterally, but 50% of our time should be devoted to self-leadership.
The leadership edge
A study of senior executives from 52 global organizations found that only 10% of the skills that distinguished these leaders were purely intellectual. If we are to grow as leaders we must assess our self-awareness. In my younger days, working at a major medical OEM, I was going through a personal trial and lost my leadership edge. I was thinking of my problem, which drew me away from my work. These things that pull us off our leadership edge are like the pull of a strong magnet that disrupts the compass. Following are some aspects of leadership to be aware of.
The checklistAre you sure of your passion?
After a number of years I understood what made me tick. I have a passion for developing medical products that save lives, and as my passion grew it developed into leading people in the same pursuit. I have had mentors and champions who challenged me to grow. Seek out a wise mentor to guide you.
Do you have a clear vision?
I believe you need to be able to see the future and set out to create it. Continuously give a word picture of the your vision: This is what we are going to do, this is why we are doing it, this is how we are going to get there.
Is your passion hot?
I keep my passion hot by mentoring, guiding, and developing people. Seeing them develop and succeed keeps my fire going. It is your responsibility to keep your fire hot. A special mentor used to tell me that I was like the Indian scout on a wagon train: I could see things others could not. I knew the trail through the pass in the mountains; I could smell the air to know how close winter was and what challenges to expect on the other side. He told me to keep coming back to the team to keep their vision strong and passions hot. Remember that visions leak and you have to revisit them.
Are you developing your skill sets?
What are your skill sets? If you can''t name two or three of them quickly, you need to assess what they are before you move on. Understand as you grow with experience that they could change or be enhanced. Know what you do best and develop those skills to the fullest. Self-leadership demands we continue to grow. If a tree is not changing with the seasons, it is dying or dead, not growing.
Are you a man or woman of integrity?
Do you walk the talk? People will not follow a leader very long if their trust is broken. I have seen and talked to leaders who say one thing and do another—not showing up to meetings they call, or say they will take care of something and then don''t do it. Integrity along with pride and ego is the downfall of most leaders.
Is your pride subdued?
After being married a short time, my wife told me that I sometimes had a prideful spirit. I was surprised she said this, but after some self-examination and being very aware of how pride could creep in when I didn''t expect it, I reviewed my actions. Being a servant leader accomplishes more than you could ever expect. Empowering people and stepping back to support them as they succeed brings a whole new dimension to leadership.
Is your fear in check?
Fear sometimes immobilizes leaders from taking a step forward. Not making a decision at a critical time could mean the survival of your business? Do you go public or stay private? When changing jobs do you hang on to what you have or move on to a position that you are scared about? Assess the facts and make the best decision you can from experience and use wise and trusted advisors.
Is your pace sustainable?
What are your leadership goals? How do they fit with what your strengths are, what you are doing, and your passion? Now relax and ask yourself if your pace is sustainable for the long run.
I believe most everyone has God, family, work, and recreation as part of their priorities. If one of these is out of balance, stress is put on one or more of your priorities. Having a mentor or someone who knows you is important. They can keep you accountable. I agree with Steven Covey, Ken Blanchard, and others who recommend you take time everyday for some time for solitude and reflection.
Is your love of people increasing?
People are a leader''s greatest treasure. I remember inheriting a product development group. People told me they were a rag-tag group that had little or no possibility of success. Six months later I was fielding questions from the same people who wanted to know how I turned this group around.
The answer was simple: I found their strengths and encouraged, guided, and coached them. I took an interest in their work and empowered them to succeed. They performed as a team with a passion for the vision they could see.
Robert L. Braido, Filtertek Inc.
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