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…

Multiplier for good…

“Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”

Colin Powell

Have you ever noticed that those who are perpetually optimistic also seem to be perpetually happy? Their optimism effects those around them and they just seem to be surrounded by good things. Positive things just seem to happen to and for them.

The “glass half full” attitude is a choice. We can either choose to see the world, and what happens in that world, as a blessing or a curse. Either way things happen and how we react to it them is entirely up to us. When we choose positivity then good things happen. When we choose negativity, then we see only the bad things.

Be a force multiplier not only for yourself, but for those around you. Your optimism can and will be contagious. That contagion is how the force will be multiplied.

It’s not about you…

“Leadership is all about people.  It is not about organizations.  It is not about plans.  It is not about strategies.  It is all about people-motivating people to get the job done.  You have to be people-centered.”

Colin Powell

The best leaders I have worked with understood this principle fully. The worst saw people as a necessary evil to achieving their goals and objectives.

As a leader how well do you know what motivates your people? And by “people” I don’t mean at an aggregate level, but individually? What motives, inspires, and drives the folks that you serve? How much of your time and effort are you investing in making those things come true for them?

Are you genuinely interested in the hopes, dreams and desires of your people? If you aren’t, trust me, they already know…

Solve the problem…

“Don’t bother people for help without first trying to solve the problem yourself.”

Colin Powell

I am sure that we all know the type of person that seems to have nothing but problems and somehow always wants to bring them to someone else to be solved. It can be exhausting to work with or be around people that are like this. They are only focused on the problem and how it is someone else’s fault or responsibility and never on the solution and how they can take ownership.

What a refreshing difference it is with someone who owns it and finds a way to solve it themselves. Giving feedback is so much easier and more valuable when working with a person that is doing their very best to solve something. They have invested the time, effort and energy into the solution instead of shifting the responsibility to someone else.

What is the difference between these two types of people? The person on one end of the spectrum wants to make sure they have an out if things don’t go well or the solution wasn’t the right one. “It’s not my fault, they told me how to do it.” At the other end the person wants to own the solution and focuses their efforts on getting things done. “It might not be perfect but I am going to own finding the solution to this problem.”

Which end of this spectrum do you live on?


Ownership = Action

“The chief condition on which, life, health and vigor depend on, is action. It is by action that an organism develops its faculties, increases its energy, and attains the fulfillment of its destiny.”

Colin Powell

When do you know it is the right time to take action?  I would argue that if you are thinking about whether it is the right time, that the right time has already passed.  

A bias towards action is a bias towards ownership.  If you have that ownership trait then you will have a bias towards action.  If you don’t, then you can grow one.  Just start taking action on the things that need to be done.

How big is your dream?

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”

Colin Powell

What kind of dream motivates you to take it from a wish to reality?  Is it big enough to make blisters worthwhile?  It is big enough to make you overcome any obstacle?  It is big enough to make you get up early in the morning and do the hard work before anyone else is even awake?  I’d argue that if you aren’t doing those things, your dream isn’t big enough…

 

Failure to plan…

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

Colin Powell

This quote reminds me of the old axiom “if you fail to plan you plan to fail.” Preparation is such an important aspect of success that sometimes gets overlooked.  It’s so easy to wait until the last minute to get the work done but far too often that increases the chance of failure, or at least of sub-optimal results.  Good preparation is part of the hard work required to create success.  Being intentional in what we WANT to do allows us to execute against our plan with focused hard work AND creates the environment that allows us to learn when things don’t go as planned.  If you don’t have a plan, how will you know if you don’t achieve it?

 

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