How can I be a leader? How can I be a better leader than I am today? These are the sorts of questions a coach is typically asked by people from both nonprofit and corporate enterprises.
Neither the questions, nor often the answers, very much depending upon the background of the questioner nor the characteristics of their organizational setting.
Leadership begins with determining what you care about, and what you care deeply about. Some refer to this as passion, and others call it vocation or calling. Regardless of terminology, the important point is that leadership development is an inside-out process of development, a bringing forth of talents, energies, motives, determination, and the perseverance necessary to make something happen. Indeed, another critical point is working out how we’ll determine “success.” Another way of saying this is “Who and for what purpose are you trying to serve?” Clarifying this issue goes a long ways toward determining both passion and ego, for in the end leadership is selflessness, and caring more about another person (or cause) than one cares about oneself. The best-kept secret of successful leaders is passion, which means love: staying in love with the people who do the work, with what their organizations produce, and with those who honor the organization by using its work. Leadership is not an affair of the head. Leadership is an affair of the heart.
Another essential characteristic of would-be leaders is their willingness to experiment with new behaviors. Increasingly, I’ve been more effective when we’ve determined not what the individual wants “to change” but rather what they want “to improve.” Even simply revising our language, for example from “strategic planning” to “strategic improvement” we can find a world of difference in people’s energies and excitement for the challenges and opportunities. Leaders are great learners, and, in fact, this has been found empirically true in a recent study. All the leadership practices of exemplary leaders came out to be positively correlated with the individual’s active learning inclinations and strategies. What’s the motive for change? Consider, do you think you could be even more effective than you are today? If so, what do you think it would take? Are you willing to try some new behaviors (perhaps even some neglected or unappreciated behaviors) in order to become even more effective?
Leadership, at any level, is fundamentally about the relationship between people. Without a relationship, there is no trust, and without trust, leadership doesn’t seed itself and grow. Mutual respect is essential in the leadership development process, and just like the leader, leader-coaches must care about their developing leader more than they care about themselves. Listening, patience, encouragement, imagination, energy, and spirit are additional personal characteristics that help both parties, both inside and outside of the developmental process.
Adapted from Barry Posner, The Leader’s passion, The art and practise of leadership and coaching, Wiley