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October 26, 2020
To start, work with us here for a minute. Picture the most prominent leader in your life. Who comes to mind? Hold onto that leader’s image, and we’ll come back to it shortly.
We have all heard the word leadership. We’d all like to think of ourselves as leaders and can often glorify the word without fully grasping what leadership looks like outside of the fancy lettering of a motivational quote. Beyond the dictionary definition, what does it actually mean to be a leader? What does leadership look like in your life, both personally and professionally? How do you lead if you don’t carry a supervisory title at work? What compels us to want to be leaders? Is leadership something you do or something you are?
We know, big questions, right? That’s why we developed an internal leadership development program (LDP). In LDP, our team not only works together to unpack these questions and have thoughtful discussions about the disillusionment of the word leadership, but we also figure out what all of these lessons mean for each individual as leaders in their own lives.
Now, back to our question earlier. Who was that leader you pictured? Was it yourself? While there are many significant leaders in the world and our lives, the value of self-leadership cannot be overstated. We tend to put the cart before the horse when it comes to leadership with a very outward-facing view. Yes, leaders lead those around them. But, what about leading yourself? Healthy leadership starts with self-leadership, and that’s why we made it the focus of the first year of LDP and what we asked our team to reflect on once we wrapped up this year’s class.
One of the main takeaways from the program this year was the power of influence. As marketers, we often talk about how one of the best ways to leverage your influence to inspire action is through storytelling.
With that spirit, the curriculum’s last assignment was a “Ted Talk” style presentation using storytelling to teach the team a self-leadership lesson of their choice.
After feeling the positive gravity of their insights, we asked the question: why should the power of their words be reserved solely for our team? Our commitment to education and empowerment urges us to share these lessons with the world.
So, we’ve summarized the key takeaways from each talk below. We hope you’ll leave this article feeling inspired and ready to invest in your self-leadership and start leveraging your influence.
I often enjoy thinking about all of the inherent value our experiences hold. I believe that every exciting new adventure, every monotonous day, every unusual encounter, every unforeseen trial or decision has the potential to teach, inspire, encourage or spark a new level of self-awareness in us if we let it.
When we read through Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he said something that deeply resonated with me:
“Until a person can say deeply and honestly, ‘I am what I am today because of the decisions I made yesterday,’ that person cannot say, ‘I choose otherwise.”
This begs the question: how do we even remember the “decisions I made yesterday?” How do we allow the inherently valuable moments of our lives to mold, teach, and inspire us towards healthy growth, spiritual maturity, or a higher level of self-awareness? Especially when that opportunity is as full and rich with wisdom as a good book, a leadership conference, or a program like LDP?
I’ve found that reflection, documentation, and dare I say journaling are the most reliable ways to ensure that we are allowing ourselves to absorb, grow from, and remember our own stories. Though how it’s done won’t be the same for everyone, when we take the time to look back intentionally, we give ourselves the opportunity to learn from, be encouraged by, share, or even write meaning into our experiences – good or bad.
It’s funny how the things you remember most are often the subtle reminders of things you already knew to be true. This was certainly the case for me during LDP this year. One of my biggest takeaways during our 5 months together came while reading the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. I first read this book over 15 years ago but rereading it during LDP, at a far different stage in my life, felt like I was reading it from a different point of view. In it, the author lays out seven principles that, when properly implemented, can really advance our leadership – both privately and publicly. Not to make this a book promotion but, if you haven’t taken the time to read it, you should. It is one of the most frequently referenced leadership books out there, and the concepts it lays out are timeless.
One of the “habits” that Covey puts forth is the habit of being proactive. By this, he means that we, as human beings, are responsible for our response choice in any given circumstance and that we can choose to either be reactive or proactive. Reactive decisions tend to be swayed by the moment’s feelings or the emotional environment; whereas, carefully pre-selected values and principles drive proactive decisions. The latter is preferred as it creates space for nuance and fosters clarity.
When asked to give a TED-style presentation on something from LDP that had impacted our lives, this concept stuck out immediately. Since discovering this concept years ago, it has been an important guide in many of my more difficult decisions and vulnerable moments. Like a lighthouse, choosing to be proactive and make decisions based on foundational values instead of temporary circumstances has helped me develop a broader perspective in my journey and provides comfort and joy amidst the storms of life.
We ask a lot of questions about leadership. Questions like, “What does it mean to be a leader?” and “What is leadership?” These are great questions to ask, but what I was most challenged by during this year’s LDP was the question: “Why do I lead?” This is just as important of a question, if not more important. This is a question we should ask first and ask ourselves often.
So, why do we lead? The obvious answer is because we have someone to lead, influence to leverage. While that is true, this is a deeper question. What is driving our impulse to lead? Like anything else, our motives to lead can be corrupted by ego, selfishness, and sin. As I thought about my own leadership journey in light of the PHOS LDP experience, I identified three temptations of leadership that can throw us off track and threaten our leadership. When we give in to one of these temptations, our ability to lead and have influence decreases.
The Temptations of Leadership:
There is one powerful practice that helps keep ourselves in check with these temptations. Ask ourselves the question, “What does love require of me?” This question is scary and sometimes leads us to decisions that will not be understood. It challenges us to always lead with a servant’s mindset, putting the benefit of others before ourselves.
LDP helped me get to know myself better more than anything. Leadership was something that I’ve seen all my life, and while I knew what it was, I didn’t have the right word for it or understand anywhere near its depth. With every discussion and book we read, it further changed my outlook and understanding. I walked away from LDP with an overarching lesson in the idea that less is more. This means that an opportunity, whether that be a project at work, a potential activity with friends, and more, doesn’t equal an obligation. Just because something comes up, it doesn’t mean you have to commit your time, energy, thought, and resources to it. Rather than offering yourself to anything and everything, focus on what fuels your purpose. Don’t say “yes” because you want to. Say “no” because you need to.
LDP was such an eye-opening and challenging experience. Leadership is a lot about talking about things that we already know but need constant reminders to digest fully. The most impactful thing from LDP that I think about every day is the idea of influence. We grow up thinking that bosses are evil, and management is about having to be mean, but in fact, leadership is most heavily driven by your influence over people. People want to work for you when you have a positive influence over them, and they will also work harder for you. Influence is created by showing the people who work for you that you’re willing to work alongside them and help guide them to their success. It is about being the “guide” in their story, not about being the “hero.” People who use the gun of authority to run their business will quickly run out of ammunition.
During LDP, one of the biggest lessons I learned was that the act of leading yourself is actually influenced by what you prioritize. One of our required readings was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, which explores what’s called a “Circle of Influence.” This is the lens through which we see the world. So whichever sits at the center of your circle, whether it’s family, money, possessions, work, or even yourself, will influence the decisions you make.
At many different points in my life, my circle of influence has shifted, and because of the things I prioritized, I felt even more lost. Luckily, when you are principle-centered, you see the world through the values you prioritize. When you make decisions based on your belief system, you can effectively love the people closest to you and prioritize other centers without letting it dictate your life. By sharing this with the rest of our team, I encouraged them to create their own personal values and use them to frame their decision making.
When you think about great leaders, start with yourself. No matter where you are in life or what your title is at work, and no matter what your outfit looks like or whether you’re on your fourth cup of coffee after a long night up with your kids, you are a leader. Leadership is an inherent part of anyone and everyone. But, it’s up to you how much you lean into those behaviors, engage with positive intent, and leverage your influence.
If you’re interested in participating in a leadership development program or creating one for your team, reach out to ours. We have plenty of books and snacks to go around.