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Leadership: It's what you make of it

Leadership is the ability to not only understand and utilize your innate talents, but to also effectively leverage the natural strengths of your team to accomplish the mission. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, answer key or formula to leadership. Leadership should be the humble, authentic expression of your unique personality in pursuit of bettering whatever environment you are in.
— Katie Christy, founder, Activate Your Talent

A parable is told about a pencil-maker who was preparing to put an important pencil in a box. Before doing so, though, he took the pencil aside. “There are five things you need to know,” he said. “If you can remember these five things, you will become the best pencil you can be.”

You will be able to do many great things, but only if you allow yourself to in someone else’s hand.

  1. Sharpening is painful, but it is critical if you want to write sharply.
  2. Since you have an eraser, you can correct most mistakes you make, though some may be harder to erase than others.
  3. Remember, it’s what’s inside that’s most important.
  4. Whatever surface you on, make sure you leave your mark. No matter how hard, rough, or easy, you must continue to write.

This parable shares powerful lessons for every leader:

  1. Be humble. You can achieve greatness, but not when you go it alone. Allow yourself to be taught and coached by others and identify the strengths of those around you to help advance the cause.
  2. Stay sharp. Strong leaders find ways to keep learning and sharpening their skills. Feedback can be painful at times, but without it, you will become dull.
  3. Accept mistakes. We all err. Though mistakes may make for challenging moments, they are ultimately part of a process of becoming a better leader. Embrace your mistakes as opportunities to learn, erase, and become better! As John Maxwell once said, “A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.”
  4. Your best is what’s inside you. You may be good-looking, dress well, and have a great personality. But what makes you who you are and the person with whom others want to connect is your character. Seek to continually grow and refine your character so that you can lead and serve with utmost integrity.
  5. Stick with it. There will be times when you think that you’re making no imprint and that your actions are not having an effect. But people will still depend on you, so you need to keep on going. Hold to your vision and your dreams, even when it seems they have dimmed.

I have attempted to offer guidance to you, the new leader, as you assume your leadership position. By now, one thing should be clear: Leadership is not easy. It takes much effort to position yourself to achieve a leadership post, and perhaps, even more, work to build a sustainable leadership platform.

But it is doable. And the world needs you.

In a 1913 address to students at Swarthmore College, Woodrow Wilson said, “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”

The fact that you have been promoted into leadership means that you have the tools and energy to make it happen. Things will get in your way, but if you continue to believe in yourself, you can become the leader that everyone around you hopes that you will be.

Leadership blogger and Minister Brian Dodd summarized the roles and opportunities of a leader as follows:

  1. Leaders provide vision and offer direction.
  2. Leaders believe in others and give them confidence.
  3. Leaders stretch others’ thinking and make them look at things differently.
  4. Leaders sharpen others’ skills and help them become better at what they do. 
  5. Leaders support others and provide what is needed to be successful.
  6. Leaders make hard decisions. They pay the price so others don’t have to.
  7. Leaders take the bullets and bear responsibility. 
  8. Leaders create experiences that help others see things in a new and different light.
  9. Leaders raise others’ self-image and make them feel better about themselves.

These are many of the opportunities that leaders have each day to impact those around them.

As much as I have endeavored to support you in your leadership journey, it bears repeating that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, answer key or formula to leadership. Each leader finds his or her way to the top and must determine what style and approach best suits him or her, as illustrated by this powerful story (quoted in "Living Forward," by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy).

High in the Himalayan mountains lived a wise old man. Every so often, he ventured down into the nearby village to entertain the locals with his special knowledge and talents. One of his skills was to use psychic powers to tell the villagers the contents in their pockets, boxes, or minds.

A few young boys from the village decided to play a joke on the wise old man and discredit his special abilities. One boy decided that he would capture a bird and hide it in his hands. He knew, of course, that the wise old man would know that the object in his hands was a bird.

The boy came up with a plan. He would ask the old man if the bird was dead or alive. If the wise man said the bird was alive, the boy would crush the bird in his hands and kill it. If the wise man said the bird was dead, the boy would open his hands and let the bird fly free. In this way, the boy would prove the old man to be a fraud.

The following week, the wise old man came down from the mountain into the village. The boy quickly caught a bird and cupping it out of sight in his hands. He walked up to the wise old man and asked, “Old man, what do I have in my hands?”

The wise old man said, “You have a bird,” and he was right.

The boy then asked, “Old man, old man tell me, is the bird alive or is it dead?”

The wise old man looked at the boy and said, “The bird is as you choose it.”

This is the essence of your leadership journey. The path that you take and your ultimate destiny are in your hands. The question is, what will you do with your opportunity?

This post first appeared on SmartBrief on Leadership and is adapted from "Becoming the New Boss," a new leadership book by Naphtali Hoff, PsyD.

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