To paraphrase one of my favorite movies, Disney Pixar’s Ratatouille, “anyone can lead.” Remember, Chef Gusteau’s mantra was, “anyone can cook.” In other words, when it comes to leadership, It is not a matter of title, position, or hierarchy. It is a matter of what kind of worker and, frankly, person (or cooking rat) you want to be.
At National Fatherhood Initiative, we have a culture of leadership. In other words, we expect everyone to be a leader, even people in entry-level positions. This culture has helped me grow as a leader, from the time I first started there answering phones to the present in my role as a VP. Thankfully, I’ve had several very good mentors teach me, mainly through their example, what leadership looks like. The staff here has also been encouraged to read books, attend webinars and seminars, and use other vehicles to learn more about effective leadership.
Why is this so important? In short, organizations, from the biggest to the smallest, from the most successful to the struggling, need good leaders, and they need them at every level of the organization, not just at the top. And there is absolutely no reason why you can’t be the leader that a particular organization needs.
So, I want to share a few things I have learned over the years about leadership, and how you can start today to be a better leader. Let’s call them my four S’s of leadership.
Be a servant – The concept of servant leadership has gained in notoriety in recent years, and I find it to be the most effective framework to truly understanding what leadership is all about. In order to lead people, you have to serve them. It sounds counterintuitive, but by serving people, you gain their trust and their respect. Without those things, you will never successfully lead them. So, show that you are willing to take on any job and help any person be better at what they do. Then, you will be seen as someone fit to lead.
Leadership can be situational – While it is true that you want to build yourself as a leader who can be counted on all the time, there are times when a certain situation requires someone to step up as a leader. Maybe a project is floundering. Maybe a task is being left undone. Maybe a staff member is disgruntled. Why don’t you be the person to step into that situation and resolve it? Don’t wait to be asked. Don’t worry that it is not in your “job description” or that, technically, it is someone else’s responsibility. If something needs doing, pursue solutions, and humbly work with others to make the situation better.
There are no substitutes – This is related to the above, but don’t wait around for someone else to be a leader, whether it is in a certain situation or in general. Remember, it’s not about job title, it’s about who is willing and able to lead.
Always ask the right questions – Ok, so this isn’t an “s,” but I couldn’t find a synonym for “questions” that started with an “s.” So, humor me. But I have honestly found over the years that often the best way to get to the bottom of a problem, or motivate a staff to tackle a job is to simply ask the right questions, Often, great leadership is not about having all the answers. It is about having the right questions, and then working with those you are leading to find the answers. When I look at the difference between the people in my organization who are on the senior management team and the rest of the staff, the primary difference is that the senior managers always know the right questions we should be asking ourselves as an organization. Often, everyone on staff contributes to the answers to those questions, but the leaders are the ones with the vision to ask them in the first place. So, to be a great leader, become a great question-asker!
There you have it, four Ss (or three Ss and a Q!).
Tell me, what you have learned about effective leadership? Do you agree with my ideas?
by Vincent DiCaro, Vice President, Development and Communication, National Fatherhood Initiative