It is said that we all influence at least 250 people in our lifetime. We each have the responsibility of leadership.
Every woman can be a leader. Yet results of surveys show that most women greatly underestimate their influence. At home it can be organizing our children to clean the house or, more important, instilling values and morals into their lives. At the workplace, it can be motivating people for sales. We influence others by what we say and do – and by how we do our work.
We recognize that Mother Teresa was one of the great religious and humanitarian leaders of the world. When we aspire to be leaders, we must learn to discern between fame and greatness. Fame is Madonna; greatness is Mother Teresa. There is a tremendous shortage of and need for truly great leaders – leaders who are trustworthy, ethical, good, honest and who have high personal standards. The world is looking for honest and upright leaders.
Thankfully there are more women in leadership now than when I first began taking on leadership responsibilities. Being in leadership roles for more than thirty years – with greater and lesser responsibilities – I have learned a great deal about good leadership. What is a leader? “A leader is a person who influences people to accomplish a purpose.” How do you become a leader? “A leader correctly assesses a situation and knows how to take the next step.”
Whether you know it or not, whether you believe it or not, you’re a leader – an influencer. Your opinions are listened to and acted upon. The following nine principles will help you make the most of your influence:
1. Have a dream that will leave this world a better place.
“Is there anything worse than being blind? Yes! The most pathetic person in the whole world is someone who has sight but has no vision.” So said Helen Keller. Leadership is simply the ability to turn a dream or a vision of a desired future state into a reality with and through the cooperation of other people. To throw your life into something worthwhile, your dream must be worth dying for. What do you get excited about?
Have a big vision; something beyond your capabilities to keep you challenged. If we have aimed our efforts for this moment only–for ourselves, for the accumulation of material things, for pleasure – we will soon become dissatisfied and disillusioned with life. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said, “There is little hope for democracy if the hearts of men and women cannot be touched by a call to something greater than themselves."
Have a dream and vision that is greater than yourself – one that will leave this world a better place.
2. Know what your strengths are.
To be leaders, we need each other to reach our goals. Each of us has only some of the skills needed to do a great job. We need to surround ourselves with people to fill in our gaps. Seventy-nine-year-old Muriel Tower, an experienced entrepreneur, said, “You get things done through other people. Number one in business is get the best person for the job. Number two, delegate. Number three, supervise – go back and see that they did it.”
In order to be effective, you need a team to work with. We lead on the basis of our strengths; we gather our team on the basis of their strengths.
What is your leadership style? Are you a visionary? A person who can see the big picture and take risks? Or are you a detail person – an administrative type? You see the need for systems and order. You do things right and at the right time. You are efficient. Perhaps you are more of a sales person – a people gatherer. You love people and can sell anything to anyone, but don’t care about details. Or maybe you just love working by yourself. A hard worker – a producer. Let someone give you a track to run on and you’ll do it.
Before you are thirty years old, you can probably do all of those jobs without too much difficulty. But once you are over thirty, you realize you don’t want to do the things you aren’t good at. It uses up too much energy. When you know what you are good at, surround yourself with a team who are good at the other three.
When you have that team, meet with them regularly and have a purpose statement that you work toward. Review it often with your staff so you don’t lose your focus. Set short and long term goals, and evaluate two or three times a year to see how you are doing. Your team will be motivated toward reaching your goals together. Give credit where credit is due. Say “thank you” to the people you are working with. Encourage them often!
Understanding your strengths and the strengths of others is a key to effective leadership.
3. Strive for excellence.
The people you want to influence will not rise to a higher standard of excellence than what they observe in you. The authors Megatrends for Women write, “Male or female, the effective leader wins commitment by setting an example of excellence.”
We were hosting a dinner for influential women in three cities with a well-known, successful speaker. Of course we were eager to make a good impression, so we spent hours wording the invitations. However, when they were printed and we looked them over, we discovered–to our dismay–that the logo for our organization was printed upside down. It was a costly oversight.
After much discussion, we decided to reprint them even though we knew that the majority of the women would not even notice the mistake. We wanted to influence leaders and we had to do things right, not only do the right things. Leaders must strive for excellence.
Strive for excellence and you will motivate others to do the same.
4. Be persistent.
Mother Teresa was a determined woman. Margaret Thatcher was a determined woman. The key to being a good leader is endurance – being a non-quitter. You will be tempted to quit and be encouraged to quit by those who are friends and enemies. Be unwilling to throw in the towel. Be determined.
One journalist wrote of Mother Teresa: “When I met Mother Teresa, I discovered she was very tiny – less than five feet tall – and kept her head cocked to one side. She had gnarled hands and thick peasant feet that protruded from under her coarse white sari. Although there was no mistaking the aura of warmth and kindness that surrounded her, I felt I was in the presence of the most powerful, focussed and determined person I had ever met.”
According to a survey done by Deloitte and Touche, senior women executives rated Determination and Perseverance as the number one essential qualities for Women’s success in business. In order to leave this world a different place, you have to be persistent. Leaders don’t grow in a comfort zone. Leaders are not people with exceptional talent; they are people who have learned from their mistakes and get up and try again.
Persistence is a key to effective leadership.
5. Be willing to stand alone.
If you have a passion, a dream or a mission, set measurable goals and work toward accomplishing them. You will find that many times you may have to work alone. You will probably be lonely.
People are looking for leaders who are willing to give it all they have, and they will follow – for a while. However, when the going gets tough, when pleasure and comfort compete with responsibility and long hours, followers will drop away. That is when you have to be sure that what you are doing is right, so that you will keep going.
James Cook said, “A person who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.”
6. Be ready for resistance.
One of the facts of life is that when you are in leadership, you have to solve problems.
Pastor Lloyd Ogilvie, for many years the senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, California and now Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, once observed, “Everyone has problems; if you don’t have any now, you will have problems; wherever you work or live, you’ll have problems; or you just might be someone else’s problem.”
Sometimes we have the faulty notion that we should be able to go through life problem free – that if we have problems, something is wrong with our life. As leaders, we have to be responsible, no matter how painful it is. Running away is not an option.
We can easily fall into waiting for someone else to solve our problems. In her book, The Cinderella Complex, Colette Dowling writes about waiting for Prince Charming: “Like Cinderella, women today are still waiting for something external to transform their lives. We may venture out a little, but underneath lurks a wish to be saved, a deep yearning for dependence.”
You don’t need to wait for someone else’s help. You will have problems. Be ready. Expect it. If you know you are doing what is right, you won’t cave in when the going gets tough.
Facing problems and dealing with them by making good decisions is the difference between a leader and a follower.
7. Set an example for your staff.
“Work hard and become a leader; be lazy and never succeed.” I am amazed at how often people want a position, but not the responsibility. It is natural to want to escape responsibility; we all do it. However, being a leader means working long hours. It means being available to solve problems or give direction whenever necessary. Being a leader means being a servant, whether you are in your home or at work. You are always on call. A leader works hard.
8. Be ethical.
As I travel a lot, I gather stats from many different papers and magazines. USA Today stated that two in three adults believe ethics “vary by situation” or that there is no “unchanging ethical standard of right and wrong.” Only 18% of the people ages 20–30 said that there was one standard of right and wrong.
The Vancouver Province printed another study, which reflected that we tell 200 lies a day. Everything from giving excuses for our behaviour, to saying things like, “I hate to bother you ... ” Don’t expect your staff or the next generation to do what is right if they see you doing what is wrong. It is incredibly important that we have a strong code of ethics to base our decisions and lifestyle on.
What set of values dictate your ethics–your behaviour? Or do you have a code of ethics? Do you have convictions that cause you to say, “I will never do that” or “For me, that is not an option?” If you don’t, sit down, think through and write down your non-negotiable code of ethics. Sometimes it can be the little things that erode your standards and–by the way – your self esteem. When temptation comes, you may very well do something that you will later be sorry for. Sometimes you have harmful situations to live with the rest of your life.
Margaret Thatcher once said, “I am not a consensus politician, I am a conviction politician.” What kind of leader are you? Do you have convictions of your own or do you live by the consensus of other opinions?
It is of utmost importance to have high ethical standards to be an effective leader.
9. Let God be your guide.
Elizabeth Dole, President of the American Red Cross, stated in an interview: “To me it’s very important to know I have a source of strength beyond my own. When I’m undertaking a difficult assignment or making a tough decision, I’m glad I don’t have to rely on my own energy, wisdom, and judgement.”
Twenty-four years ago, I realized I needed a source of strength beyond myself. The goals I had set for myself were not satisfying and even relationships did not fill my deepest need. At the age of thirty-two, I gave the control of my life to God. He is that source of strength I needed. I simply prayed, “I want You to be my Guide from now until I die.” He heard me.
Initially, I was filled with tremendous joy, peace and satisfaction. I felt like someone really cared for me – accepted me unconditionally. It was like finding a missing piece to a puzzle after looking for a long time.
My goals, priorities, and dreams started changing. My dreams became much bigger –beyond what I could personally do. My scope of interest grew from the home base to the community, from the community to the province, from the province to our nation, from our nation to the world.
I noticed many women in my world were not maximizing their abilities; I worked hard to encourage and train them to be the best women they could be.
Yet what is more important, I realized that if Jesus Christ could satisfy me and change my life so dramatically, He could do that for anyone. So I started telling people how they could have a personal relationship with God.
Find the power to change your life and your world – let God be your guide. Oliver W. Holmes was quoted as saying, “I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as is what direction we are heading.” What direction do you think you will be heading 5 years from now? 10 years from now? 25 years from now?
As a leader, what direction are you heading? What direction are you taking the 250 people you are influencing?
This article was written by: Katherine J. KehlerPhoto Credit: Guilherme Stecanella