Author and entrepreneur Sherman Nelson offers his unique recipe for what it means to be a leader in the 21st century.
“You need to step up and be a leader!”
“Men are supposed to be the head of the house.”
“We are supposed to be in charge.”
“Show em who’s the man!”
We hear statements like this all the time. We are always reminded that men are supposed to be the leaders of our homes and our communities. The ones out front; the ones who take the point position; the ones who lead the way. In all of the dialogue about being a leader, no one ever tells young men, or old ones for that matter, HOW to lead. One of the most frustrating things a young man will experience is the constant expectation that he be something without any clear path to meeting that expectation. Expectation without explanation leads to frustration. While there is a dictionary definition of what a leader is, it is important to have tangible, easy to follow steps that a guy can put into practice immediately. I have broken the word into 6 things that I believe every leader strives to be.
(1) The L in leader is for Listener. A leader must be a good listener. Hearing is an ability, listening is a skill. All skill must be developed. We must learn how to be active, engaged and intentional listeners. As men, we typically want to listen, solve the problem or situation and move on to the next one. Listening involves stepping out of yourself and actually allowing what is being said to be as real to you as it is to the person saying it. Listening is so much more than just waiting until you get a turn to talk. People will share more freely when they believe they aren’t just being heard but are being listened to as well.
(2) The E in leader is for Energizer. Energy is neither created nor destroyed, it is merely transformed. A leader must be able to transform the energy of those being led into a form that is more useful; more positive than negative. The best way to manifest energy transformation is by transference. Good leaders can walk into a room and transform the atmosphere just by exuding a certain type of “I can!” or “I will!” energy. As a coach, you can walk into the locker room before a big game and see that the energy of your team isn’t where it should be. You have to be the one to transform the energy in the room from can’t to can. From maybe not to maybe so. From how can we do it to why can’t we do it. This works in a sports context, business setting or home environment. The people you lead will take their cue from you. Give the energy that you want/need to see.
(3) Now that you have transformed the energy in the person or persons, you come to the A in leader – Activator. Now that the energy is in a more useful form and it moves from potential energy to kinetic. From possible to actual. It now needs someone to activate it. Now it’s time to provide an outlet or mechanism for the release of that energy. Provide the purpose, project or process to see that energy becomes an active thing in the world around you. As the leader, you indicate the battle we are preparing to fight, the cause we are preparing to champion, and the purpose we are getting ready to accomplish. Going back to our coach analogy, now that the athlete or team believes they can do it, it’s up to you to remind them of the game plan. Restate the mission, which is the object upon which that positive kinetic energy is to be released.
(4) The D in leader is for Decider. Leaders set courses, especially when no course exists. If someone has to make a decision, you make it. Leadership requires reciprocal trust. The ones being led must be able to trust that you will make the call when the time comes, just like you have to trust that they will follow you. People can live with a wrong decision, as long as it is made thoughtfully and in everyone’s best interest. Being great begins with the decision to be great! A coach who has to pull a player from a game, which is sometimes a difficult call, must be able to make that call for the good of the team. The player might not like the call, but everyone will respect the coach for making it. Even the player who got pulled.
(5) The second E in leader is for Encourager. Good leaders find ways to uplift, esteem, affirm and build others up. You will sometimes have to even encourage yourself. Leaders know that through your words and actions, you can make someone feel valued. Your encouragement will help to see the project finished, the attitude changed and the environment shifted. It is said that anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down but an encouraging word makes it glad. As I said before, leadership requires trust. You can be a great manager of someone’s skill, talent and ability but it is how you manage their psyche, emotions and spirit that will build a bond of trust that will cause them to follow you anywhere. Encouragement and affirmation are tools that build that trust.
(6) Finally the R in leader is for Real. Just be yourself! You have to believe that you are smart enough, strong enough, and capable enough to not only do your job, but have an impact in the world. Your best impersonation of someone else pales in comparison to the worst version of being yourself. Trust can’t be genuine when people can’t see who you really are. They end up trusting the character that you are playing. What happens when the curtain comes down and the show is over? People don’t need perfect leaders…because they’re not perfect followers. They do need leaders to be honest with them, care about them and be there for them. We are all people with issues, feelings, etc and those don’t diminish who we are. They make us who we are. Lead, out front, in your own skin and your people will respect you.
In this day and time it is difficult to lead people. A leader who is a good listener, can energize people, activate them, make solid decisions, encourage them and is real with them has a better chance of success.
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