There are a number of reasons that people never become great leaders, but it often comes down to fear — fear of being a fraud, fear of failing, fear of succeeding, fear of isolation, fear of the unknown, fear of being irrelevant, fear of change. Fear often keeps managers from being great leaders.
Great leaders, in contrast, use their fear to excel and fuel their ambitions. They dare to communicate a vision that’s bigger than numbers. They aren’t afraid to serve others fearing it will threaten their status.
A great leader knows who he or she is and their actions and attitude make it clear to everyone else around them. Great leaders empower others, because they do not fear the future. These leaders are committed to the success of the vision — not themselves. It’s why truly great leaders don’t need titles or the trappings of leadership to lead effectively.
Does this sound radical? Well, it shouldn’t!
How great leaders are different
Great leaders differ from run-of-the-mill managers in another way, too. Managers tell people how it is and what to do. Leaders show people who they are and what they can achieve; then they believe in them to do it. John was managing successfully, but not leading successfully.
Most of us have been raised to value performance above all else — getting ‘A’s, winning a race, or increasing profits. For example, if a sales executive secures a big client, one that contributes a disproportionate amount of revenue to the company, he or she becomes highly valued, well compensated, and likely asked to lead the sales team. In fact, he or she would expect to lead the team. If a company is solely concerned with sales performance, this makes sense.
The problem is that one’s performance, in this case sales ability, often has very little to do with aptitude for leading other people. In fact, maintaining a high level of performance may actually hinder some individuals’ ability to lead effectively.
Why? Superior performance for most people requires a high level of focus in order to learn and adapt their skills progressively. In the case of sales or client relations, an individual must stay attuned to their clients’ needs and agile enough to meet them quickly. As a result, these high performers may not have the bandwidth to inspire, serve, and empower the people that they lead.
Moreover, as their compensation and status is based on their personal ability to perform, i.e., making their numbers, there is no incentive to develop a junior executive who is trying to grow future business with smaller clients worth far less to the company in the short term. Consequently, junior executives can grow frustrated with their leadership because their leaders are not serving or empowering them. Whether intentionally or not, these more junior executives may perceive their leader’s lack of attention as a deliberate decision to maintain their own supremacy in the organization at their expense.
Talented, motivated mid-level managers and junior executives will leave, rather than suffer in a kind of corporate purgatory. Less talented or motivated individuals will stay, reduce productivity, and lower morale, thus creating an environment that is neither dynamic nor capable of sustaining a high level of performance consistently, and is at best mediocre. Too often what happens is the head of sales keeps the big client happy and manages everyone else, which is different from leading them.
Committed to a vision
But what if we changed the paradigm altogether? Leaders show people who they are and what they can achieve; then they believe in them to do it.
Working in politics, media, business, and even in my own family, I’ve found that great leaders are not attached to a specific outcome or result — they are committed to a vision, because things change: economics, governments, Acts of God can change exact outcomes, and then people waste time re-calibrating their criteria rather than adhering to a simple goal, such as We want to provide the best customer service experience in our industry.
By communicating a simple vision of what a company wants to be, it informs the mindset of the entire organization. Like when Roger Ailes wanted Fox News to be the top-rated cable news network in America, his vision informed how all of us did our jobs, even if we were not the on air talent. When a leader provides that kind of guidance, the results are a consequence of that vision. Numbers can be an objective, but as we all learned with the U.S. housing bubble and the financial crisis of 2008, people can manipulate numbers just as easily as they manipulate words.
Politicians are lambasted for their empty words and promises, but in 1863, Abraham Lincoln galvanized a war-weary nation with his words at the dedication of a soldiers’ cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In 1984, Ronald Reagan spoke of a “shining city on a hill” and told us that “it was morning in America.” And in 2008, President Barack Obama told Americans that we could heal our racial wounds and continue on our path to a more perfect union.
Managing our fears, building a vision
These men’s words resulted in real change — change that started with a vision. Leaders use words like painters use brush strokes on canvas. By using our words to invest faith in others, we create and adapt a world for each other that is real and meaningful.
When we fail to nurture and shape this world for each other and ourselves, fear takes root. It strangles dreams and kills aspirations.
I learned early in my career that if I was afraid to take the next step, fearful of what would happen, then I knew it was the right thing for me to do. Everyone is afraid — afraid of losing, afraid of the unknown, afraid of change, but a leader is most afraid of never knowing what could have been. They allow their fear to propel rather than stop them.
If we can learn to manage our fear, to have a big vision of our life and of those around us; if we can get outside our head long enough to satisfy someone else’s need and empower another person to greatness without feeling outshined, then we can declare ourselves a leader — not only of men, but of our own lives.
Excerpted with permission from Leader Designed: Become the Leader You Were Made to Be, Copyright 2016 by Dana W. White. Leader Designed will be available on Amazon and at brick and mortar stores across America. Learn more about Dana W. White at www.danawwhite.com. Connect with her on Twitter @leaderdesigned and Facebook at Leader Designed.