Think You are a Leader? 5 Things You Ought To Check Yourself On

Foreword: I am using the word “leader” quite loosely in this post. I have very strong opinions of what a GREAT leader is. I also know that many people are self-proclaimed leaders when in actuality they do not know the first thing about being a leader. So when I have references in the negative about a
“leader” in this post, please know it is that latter group that I am referring to. I also do not mean to insinuate that any one of my readers is a bad leader

I also apologize in advance for the rants (they are too good to omit though right?)

The other night when I was hanging out with friends, the topic of zodiac signs came up. A friend said to me, “Oh you are a Leo. You must be stubborn.” I laughed and said, “so they say”. Because really, do stubborn people ever admit they are stubborn? I followed up with this though, “I am definitely stubborn when it comes to the principle of things and being ethical.  I have a hard time letting go of something when I do not agree with it.” Which is where this post came from. Leadership is something I take oh so seriously and it drives me insane knowing there are people in this world running around proclaiming to be leaders. They mistake their rank or title for leadership. They mistake teaching the ropes on social media as coaching. They mistake publicly bashing people (on their team!) over Facebook with “being organic.”  Ok, I digress a little bit. But the point of that last statement is that being a leader means knowing the difference between being diplomatic yet honest with being disrespectful and malevolent.

Without further delay, let’s get into what a good leader is NOT.

  1. A good leader never wants someone on their team who does not want to be there.
    I have never believed in holding anyone back or preventing someone from pursuing other options or doing anything to advance their career. Sometimes being a leader means accepting that you will be a stepping stone. People change and morph as do their needs. Just because someone does not need us anymore, does not mean we did a terrible job leading and coaching. It just means we gave them what they need to keep moving. Keeping anyone who wants to be there creates resentment and imbalance in a team. If someone finds another opportunity that aligns with their goals, a good leader supports that. It is not a personal attack necessarily. And if it is, then that leads me to the next point.
  1. A good leader recognizes a learning opportunity when they see one.
    Deflecting or projecting an issue that someone brings to a leader’s attention is most likely indicative of an insecurity, arrogance and just being stupidly lacking in self- awareness. There are moments that come our way that are blessings not punishments. Having someone express a concern, even if it IS directly targeted at you, is your chance to rise above it. There may just be some truth to what they are saying and if you are a good, solid leader, you will think about it from another perspective.If someone cannot handle feedback, to be totally blunt, they have no business being in a position of leadership. Period.And furthermore (oh snap I used “furthermore”), if someone cannot handle feedback from a manager, a peer, a subordinate, anyone in the workplace, chances are they cannot handle it anywhere else in life. Which I will say for the millionth time, that is indicative of immaturity and a lack of self- awareness. I have zero patience for people who are always the victim. It is never them.
  1. A good leader does not dismiss someone’s opinion or feelings.
    Anytime we communicate with someone, whether it’s a boss, a peer, a friend, a spouse, a customer service rep (seriously, who likes being told as a customer you are wrong?), we want to at a minimum feel validated. Whether you agree or not is beside the point. People want to feel heard. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to have a conversation and have your points completely not understood and ignored. Literally it is like talking to a wall. A wall that you probably want to punch. So, if a “leader” is completely missing your points, know when to take that battle up with someone else who can influence them or merely just walk away (and plan your escape route. Seriously). Some battles are better left untouched.
  1. A good leader does not manipulate.
    Manipulation can come in many forms and pretty much every time it is a control thing. To my first point earlier, keeping someone on a team when you are the only person who has the power to relinquish them is straight up manipulation. Telling someone how much you have done for them and how much they owe you is manipulation.  Telling someone in one breath how highly you think of them and in the next how much they have disrespected you is also manipulation. Be honest and be real. People think they are sugar coating things when really they are trying to either confuse the hell out of someone else or manipulate a situation to make them feel like they are back in control (which for real, who wants to deal with that?)
  1. A good leader does not have an attitude of entitlement when someone wants to leave.
    Warning: This one gets me especially fired up.
    Sure, there is going to be disappointment at losing a good resource, but good leaders do not harbor resentment about it. A good leader knows that people will move on at some point and no matter how much they may have done for that person, they have the right to move on.Putting in a few days or a few months or a few years training someone does not make them yours. They are not indebted to you.

    And having someone leave is not even always a bad thing. It could be opening an opportunity for you or someone else. Because often you have to let go of something to get what you really need.

    Really though, I am calling bull shit on anyone who feels that they cannot release you because releasing YOU is DISRESPECTFUL to THEM. Putting in time training is part of the job description and it is not wasted time (for anyone). I get so fired up because I once had someone who refused to release me because she felt like she put in months of her time training me which is time lost that SHE will never get back. (Those were her words, not mine).

    Case and point. That shows immaturity and spite, which again, are not exactly cornerstones of being a leader.

    Being a leader is not an easy thing even for those who have that gift innately. It takes cultivating, training, real life experience and most importantly a whole lot of humility (and a whole lot less of ego). I am grateful, truly, for my past corporate life. I was given an opportunity to lead and it is something I have always taken seriously.

    Leading is not about me. It is about other people.  It is about inspiring others around me and not draining them. The main common theme of every single example above is that it shows a mentality of only thinking about oneself instead of others.

    Having a “me me me” attitude is the antithesis of a leader.

    There are a lot of things you can fix in this world when it comes to issues with people, but you cannot fix  those who are ignorant or irrational, especially when they are in the height of their “it is all about me” way of thinking.

    Perhaps for some of these “leaders” they will have that “Oh snap” moment and have some over due self-reflection. I just know for myself, I cannot stick it out around those types waiting for them to figure out. And neither should you. It is okay to walk away from a “leader” when they are downright irrational and overly emotional. As the kids say today, you do you.

The Quiet Leader

The Quiet Leader

Leadership is everywhere. I believe it is within all of us to varying degrees. Leadership is not always an in-your-face kind of a thing. It is not always something that you can be taught in formal class room settings. I would like to explore the idea of leaders who fly under the radar: quiet leaders.

I strongly believe that popularity is often mistaken for leadership. Just because someone has a lot of followers or a big squad does not mean they are a leader.  There are a lot of people who can say catchy things or post pictures on their Instagram accounts that people gravitate towards. I argue they are not always leaders. They may have thousands of likes. Does that make them leaders? In some cases yes depending on what message or positivity they are spreading.  For many though, they might be simply popular.

Leading is not defined quantitatively. Not every leader is a public figure. Not every leader has a big platform. Not every leader has the intention to lead.  Leading is not always so deliberate or obvious. There are many leaders out there who are inspiring, encouraging and motivating in much more subtle, quiet ways. Sometimes it is through example. Sometimes it is through one’s passion that becomes infectious to others. Sometimes it is simply by being a gracious, humble human being.

Sometimes leading is built over time. Sometimes it is one’s journey that ends up cultivating leadership. To be an authoritative, respected leader people demand trust, transparency, relevance, and a sense of connection.

I have been a reader through a great organization, Read to a Child, for 4 years. I have been lucky to read to the same child all 4 years despite moments of questioning whether I was really making any difference in the child, Michael’s, life. From the very beginning, it was clear that children were either part of this program as they are in need of improved reading skills or that they are in need of extra attention. Michael falls into the latter category. He is an extremely introverted, quiet child. It took months to get him to even laugh. There were days of reading where I felt like yes, we are bonding and he is into this. Then there were just as many, if not more, days where I had to ask him to peel his face off of the table.

When I had the choice to continue on this year, my initial thought was not to.  I felt perhaps Michael should be with a different reader to see if he has a more enjoyable, beneficial experience. Ultimately, I felt though like I would be quitting on him, and that was not something that I would ever want to do. I had my first 1:1 session with him a few weeks ago and it was one of our best ever. He was engaged, excited to read, and uncharacteristically very chatty.

One significant thing happened. Michael had been telling me since last year about how at a visit to the doctor he was told that he weighed too much and needed to lose weight. (I could write a whole blog about how much it breaks my heart to see a then 9 year old, now 10 year old worrying about his weight. Kids should be worrying about upcoming soccer games and math tests, not about how they are going to diet. Anyways, I digress.) Ever since then, he sprinkles out of the blue comments into our sessions about his weight. Anyways, I knew he had a doctor’s appointment since I last saw him as he had told me that he was scared to go because he thought it would hurt to get blood drawn and that he didn’t want the doctor to tell him that he needed to lose weight. When I asked if the doctor’s visit ended up being scary he said no. He did express he still feels like he weighs too much and so I did my best to give him encouragement. I asked how he likes playing sports and being active and to focus on that. I want him to be excited about exercise and fitness for more than the reason to lose weight. I told him how I love to work out and that I too lost weight. Look, I by no means want to undermine his parents or family. I just know in my heart that Michael keeps a lot to himself, and so if he is expressing his fears to me, it would be only natural to chat with him about it. He is not a kid who talks to talk or tells everyone everything. He feels comfortable enough with me to talk about it, and that is not something I take lightly.

I typically grapple with the idea that I, myself, am a leader, despite many people telling me I am. When I think about my recent reading session with Michael, I realized that I am starting to accept that yes, I am a leader.  It is not about being in front of a room of kids. It isn’t about having one enlightening conversation or interaction. It is not about preaching to even one kid as to what I think he should or should not be feeling. It is about building trust and being someone that even one child confides in. It is about being authentic and listening to someone. It is about delivering a message at the right time to the right person. It is about understanding. It is not always about broadcasting my mission to the world, or even to Michael. It is about organically being able to instill something in someone, no matter how big or small. It is about quietly leading.

I have had many unexpected people comment or tell me how posts I have written were so relatable or powerful. I have had people tell me at CrossFit how I have inspired them or pushed them. I have had people who have worked for me tell me how I made a difference in something they have done or how they improved in something through my guidance. I am not saying all of this to toot my own horn.  I say it because these are all things I do because I am passionate about them. They help me grow as a person, which indirectly is cultivating my own leadership. I did not start CrossFit to lead.  I did not start writing to lead. I did not even start managing to lead. I simply love working out and feeling healthy. Writing is therapeutic and fulfilling for me. Managing is well, an exercise in many forms. The point is I do not go through life with the intention of leading. Yet, leadership is in me. I strongly believe it is in many of us quiet people and we should nurture that. Bring it out.  Own it. The world needs more of it.

To steal the quote of Paul Shane Spear, I align with this school of thought: “As one person I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person.” It is not always about how many people you have an impact on.  It’s about how you impact someone.