Our paradigm of leadership can be strongly influenced by the position a leader holds, and how they successfully lead within this position. For example, a Principal leading a school, a CEO leading an organisation, a Director leading a business, a teacher leading a classroom. Every one of these positions has its own unique environments, however, when it comes to understanding true leadership success, it is far deeper than the position itself.
To truly understand your own leadership characteristics, instead of looking on the outside, you must really look within. We call this the ‘inline’ state of awareness in the three dimensions of holistic learning: Online, Offline and Inline. One of the questions you should be asking yourself, when it comes to understanding the factors that drive you is, “Am I leading because I need others to follow, or because others need to follow me?” This is a very important question to ask as the strongest intent will define your outcome.
You can think of this like applying for a job, especially a leadership position. Do you walk into the interview needing the job, or do you walk into the interview thinking you are the right person for the job and they need you?
We often don’t spend time really searching within ourselves as leaders to truly understand our beliefs, and how they shape our behaviours, including our capacity to lead successfully. This time of reflection, awareness and transformation should be scheduled in to your calendar, as it will be a huge investment in yourself as a leader, and for those that are following you.
If we realise, as leaders, why we lead, and whether we lead because we need others to follow, or because others need to follow us; this will have very different results in our relationships with others, and the impact of our leadership. You might think, well actually I believe both are important, however one will be more dominant than the other when you are leading, and is something that is extremely important for you to see and distinguish. Which one is more important to you?
Leading because you need others to follow
If you are leading because you need others to follow, your need for significance as determined by others, is important to you. It is connected to what others think, and to pleasing others to satisfy this need. By doing this, you may be changing yourself to be more aligned to their values, which may be totally different to your own. Of course, as a leader, the importance of compassion and understanding is vital, but when you attempt to lead based on how others feel, you may be missing the bigger picture, and losing your sense of direction in the process. We often see this in politics, where political leaders change policies and make decisions to win voters; rather than making tough decisions that align with their ideology of making a long term difference. Through this, it is highly probable that credibility and integrity are compromised.
If you are leading because you need others to follow you, you may be exhibiting the following characteristics:
- Indecisive when faced with making challenging decisions;
- Saying ‘yes’ when you really want/need to say ‘no’;
- Agreeing with others even though it conflicts internally with your own beliefs and values. This may happen when organisational ethics clash with personal ethics;
- Over-extending your time and commitment to people (i.e. making more time than you have to support others);
- Not respecting your own self-care and wellbeing, as others are more important than you are;
- Allowing others to dominate conversations and control the outcome;
- Looking at how many people are ‘liking’ your page, following you, and commenting on your work via social media (in this case quantity is more to you than quality);
- Reactive rather than proactive behaviour, as you are concerned with defending yourself when disaster strikes; rather than being in control and analysing the situation to determine the best action to take based on your values. You might also not act at all, as you fear what others may think, or what they might do.
As you read this you may find that you don’t do this all the time. However, there have been times in your leadership where you have resorted to this as it felt like the right thing to do. For example, saying yes when you should be saying no. You said ‘yes’ as you could see that they have to experience the downfall themselves to fully understand and grow.
Leading because others need to follow you
If this is what you are about, you will find the way you relate to others is far more assertive, purposeful and passionate. You know you have something to offer in the world, and choose to lead because you can be the difference. There is a danger that if you become too ego driven, you might come across as arrogant, and others may not want to follow you. Having understanding and compassion for those around you is important as you endeavour to steer the ship away from the storm of turmoil. If you know you have something to offer as a leader, you follow your passion and your drive to lead great change that benefits others.
On this journey, people that align to your vision and mission will join you as they see the need to be part of this change. You offer them the strength, encouragement and leadership they need to support them in their journey, and give them a true purpose to achieve this mission. At times you will want others to follow you, however, this is not the dominant force in what you do, think, and feel. Instead you don’t lose sight of your direction and ensure you keep travelling the road you created with respect, resilience, and belief. Within this, your consistent approach, and focus on what is most important; leads to developing integrity and trust.
If you are leading because others need to follow you, you may be exhibiting the following characteristics:
- A strong vision, belief, and purpose;
- Knowing what you want, and taking consistent action to achieve it (i.e. being proactive);
- Making decisions aligned to your beliefs, vision, and the bigger picture, even if they are not favourable to others. Doing the right thing instead of doing things right by others;
- A strong self-belief and belief in others;
- Consistency in your actions, choices, and words;
- Living your truth;
- Respecting your self-care and wellbeing. Knowing that your wellness is vital to fulfilling the vision and moving others forward;
- Patience knowing the long term goal will be achieved at the expense of short term adversity;
- Knowing when to intervene during challenging conversations and taking the lead when it is vital to align everyone to the mission;
- Fearless, strong, and determined. Others want to follow someone that is stable and strong, as it gives them reassurance, security, and support;
- Social media is a way for you to voice your wisdom and mission. It is about quality, not quantity of followers, you are interested in;
- Risk-taker with the ability to face the consequences of your actions, and take responsibility for them.
There are many characteristics that can be shared for both; these are just a few. As you now self-reflect on these characteristics, and consider your own leadership intent regarding ’need’, you may feel empowered, or concerned, about this information. If you want to improve further, it is never too late to change your intent. If you are aware of what you have been doing, and know that it hasn’t served you well in your leadership, you have the power to change it. Shift your paradigm, and develop your capacity for leadership so that others need to follow you, far more than you needing them to follow.
If you would like to experience a leadership course that will make a huge difference to your leadership journey, enrol in the the Inspiring Aspiring Leaders workshop for educators. Only 16 places are available. Find out more here.