Leadership is…

“Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”

Colin Powell

This is one of, if not my absolute, favorite leadership quotes of all time. It is definitely in my top 5 list. I know that I have used it in my daily quotes before, probably several times in the now 22 years that I have been sending out a daily message, but I looked and I haven’t used it over the past two years. So what better time than now to bring out an old favorite?

There is so much richness and wisdom in this message. To me it isn’t about the fact that people are bringing you their problems, in fact that might not be a good thing at all…

It is about whether or not your team views you through the lens of being able to help and add value to them and bring perspective and insight that would help them be more effective in solving their problems.

It is about whether or not you as a leader have created a culture and atmosphere where those that you lead and influence know that you care, deeply care, about them as a person and about their problems, challenges and successes.

To be able to lead you must be deeply introspective and self-aware if you want to grow in influence and as John Maxwell states, “Leadership is influence” (also one of my top 5 quotes of all time).

It makes me think of a number of questions that are needed to get to the heart of what is at play for anyone that is in a leadership role, whether officially designated or not. Here are some of the questions that come to mind.

Are people bringing me their challenges? Why or why not?

Am I growing, intentionally growing, my skills and talents so that I can be additive to those that I serve? Do I understand what they need from me as a leader and am I going out and purposefully growing my expertise in order to best serve them?

Have I made it safe as a leader for those I influence not to have all the answers? How or how not? Is it safe for them to bring me their problems or challenges, not because I can provide all the answers but because I can help them think through the best solution and help them guard against any blind spots?

Do I actively listen and pay attention to see if those I lead and influence are coming to me seeking input and advice? Am I constantly and continually scanning my environment to see if I am providing value to them and helping them? If no one is seeking then do I know it and am I working to find out why not?

Does my team know that I genuinely care about them as individuals, about their problems, about their challenges, about their opportunities? Not in a “I hope they know I care” kind of way but in an explicitly stated and reinforced through actions kind of way. Am I walking the talk on a daily basis that perpetuates my care and concern and when I fail, and I will fail, am I addressing that head on with them?

These questions help me to continually refine my leadership as I seek to expand my skills and capabilities. They also address another John Maxwell axiom that is a favorite of mine, “Are you really leading, or are you just taking a walk?” (I have included a link to John’s Blog here as it has such beautifully rich content and perspective).

As mentioned above “Leadership is influence.” The essential meaning of this quote is wrapping up the “how” that influence is built and delivered…

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