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Responsible Leadership: Successfully Guiding Those Who Have Chosen to Follow You

For whatever reason I am finding myself a bit nostalgic of late. Perhaps it’s because I’m looking at life and priorities a bit differently through the lens of enjoying three little grandchildren. That is most definitely one of the most important blessings in a life well-lived. Or maybe it’s because I have the wonderful opportunity to serve as a coach and mentor to several young professionals and have expanded the allocation of time to this important work over the last few months. Or, it could have something to do with the fact that I just celebrated the anniversary of five successful years in business after launching my own company. I have had the amazing blessing of this being a very successful venture for me! Regardless of the reason, looking back over an almost 30-year run in the home furnishings industry is surprisingly a very humbling exercise, and one that I am very proud of. Through all of that, my mind consistently goes back to attempting to answer one very important question: What is the single largest contributor to this successful career journey I have enjoyed?

The answer is easy: I have always made it a priority to continually develop my skills to be an effective LEADER. There is a discipline required to make the commitment to sharpen the ax continually to become better, effective and proficient at this important role. I never take it for granted. I believe we have a responsibility as leaders to earn that designation each and every day, and I make it a priority to do just that.

Whether you have stepped into your first ‘real job’ or you are a seasoned career veteran, and you have a passion for being an effective leader, there is one very important truth that needs to be understood: Leadership is a JOURNEY and not a DESTINATION. You don’t simply arrive at the day when you can anoint yourself as an acclaimed and proficient leader. Each day should begin with a conscious effort to learn something new that will allow you the opportunity to grow and expand your leadership skills; first for the betterment of you, and then for the investment in those you lead.

What is the definition of great leadership? It starts with having a visionary mindset, a courageous heart, a contagious mindset for all that is possible, and a sincere passion to actively participate in the success of others. Having responsibility for the development of others of whom you manage is not a designation to take lightly. How you lead your team will undoubtedly shape how THEY lead others that they will become responsible for in the future. So in reality, you hold THEIR ultimate success in the critical development of their leadership capabilities in YOUR hands!

Throughout all of my years in leading and being led, I have found that there are some common threads between those who truly lead and do it well. There are seven proficiencies here – I’m sure there may be many more however these are the most important to keep in mind as you consider your own leadership journey:

1. Great Leaders Inspire Others to Achieve More Than They Ever Thought Possible: Getting others to recognize their own strengths and passions is critical to helping them reach their full potential. I never assume that people know what their gifts are, so I make it a point to be observant and aware at all times.

2. Great Leadership is About Listening More Than Speaking: Most people love to talk! However, the more we listen to those we lead, the better the coach we will be. We must help them get to the result they want and not just simply tell them how and when to get there.

3. Great Leadership Begins With the Person and Not The Title: People want to follow successful and inspiring leaders regardless of what they do. Respect comes with, and is earned by, the person and not the position.

4. Great Leadership is About Wisdom and Not Education: Great leaders are ‘street smart’ to a stronger degree than they are ‘book smart’ and getting to that place comes with only opportunity and experience. While you can make an argument that respect can be earned through various degrees obtained, most of us look to the background and accomplishments that a leader has achieved, and that is ultimately who we want to follow.

5. Great Leaders First Become Great Followers: You can’t effectively lead if you haven’t first learned how to be led. We are all shaped in some way by our past and reflecting back on how we were managed at times during our careers helps to mold our own leadership style to be the best we can be and to have the greatest impact on others.

6. Great Leaders Demonstrate Stability While Driving Change: Leadership is hard – difficult decisions need to be made every day, and exceptional leaders can provide a sense of calm and confidence while successfully guiding the team forward through growth and expansion.

7. Great Leaders Actively Look for the Next Great Leader: Perhaps one of the most important responsibilities of any leader is ensuring that the next generation of leaders are in process and in place.

Why do I lead? Honestly, I do it for two reasons: The desire to give back and my responsibility to pay it forward. I look back frequently on the times where the leaders I worked for gave me a shot to step in and become more than I ever thought I could accomplish. They saw something unique in me that I couldn’t see for myself. Without their confidence in me and my abilities to succeed, I would never have enjoyed the ride of my career or had the amazing experiences I have had. So, my job is to ensure that continues with the people that are in my path now. I cannot think of a better or more important role to have, and this will be my personal mission for as long as I possibly can.

What a great mission!

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