What leaders do

by Kate on October 1, 2012

What does a leader get paid to do? It’s a worthwhile question to think about. But we need to do more than think, because leadership isn’t something you think, it’s something you do.

It’s easy to gather information about leadership. The wisdom(?) of the internet means we don’t even need to read books or listen to speakers.  A rummage through Google will produces plenty of “Top 10 Leadership Characteristics lists”. Or you can search Twitter for #Leadership for 140 character insights:

When people sense they matter they instinctively become more engaged and more productive @LollyDaskal

I am proud of you. I believe in you. I appreciate you. @mikeyb

But none of this will make a difference, other than sucking up time, unless you do something with it. Refining your leadership means a lifelong journey of thinking and doing.

The journey starts with thinking, but it doesn’t stop there. We become better leaders by thinking about it, talking about it, observing leaders in action, being mentored and above all by doing it.

Some years ago, I heard Pat Murray speak to a group of TEC members. When asked what a leader does, he said:

Leaders are paid to make choices. Everything is a choice. Which meetings you attend, which you don’t. What you read, what you don’t.

It sounds obvious, until we consider the challenges we have with making choices, how often we defer decisions or hold off making them (especially in new roles, new situations or at times of change when things seem less certain).

The question then becomes “How do we choose?” How can we choose unless we uncover our purpose by asking questions like: Why am I here? Why are we here? What matters to us? Without this clarity, we can end up stopped like deer caught in the headlights.

Here are three practical actions to define your purpose and refine your leadership.

  1. Build up your leadership library and distil the key points, which helps to clarify them in your mind. Read one leadership book a month for three months and consider how it might apply to you. If you don’t know where to start, ask someone whose opinion you value.
  2. Wrestle with the significant business issues you face. Establish a process for defining and discussing them, then reaching a decision on the action to take. This helps uncover and clarify how you think so you can know yourself better.
  3. Consider your version of the purpose question: “What matters?” Come back to the question regularly until you truly know the answer. You might find the questions in this post helpful.

But above all remember, you’ll never become a better leader just by thinking about it. Leaders do.

Which book or person has most influenced your leadership? 

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