What is a leader

A leader is someone who takes responsibility for their impact on the world around them. This definition means a leader’s primary focus is on how they respond to what happens as a result of their actions. Sounds easy in principle, but the truth is strong leaders are the ones who accomplish this through being the most authentic version of themselves possible. 
 
With this definition of a leader, it means we are all leaders in the world regardless of what you do, your job title is, or even how visible your leadership is. The only question to consider is what are you choosing to step into as a leader?
 
Being a leader in the world is a commitment to always taking responsibility for your impact as a leader. There are so many leadership tools available to us these days that it can become difficult to know how they fit when to use them, and what purpose they serve. Through our experiences in working with leaders in all types and sizes of organization, we have come to see this can be a big struggle for many leaders. 
 
Although most of our work is in the private sector, Leading for Change is for all of us, which is one reason we share so openly. 

 

Is this a model?

Arguably, yes you could point to what you are about to read and call it a model. In fact, it was after reading this post by my friend Jason Little, that I realized I was falling into the trap of creating a model. OMG am I becoming one of those consultants?! 
 
The problem I have with models, is too often they are created by consultants, like me, who want you to give them money. There are lots of great excuses for this many of which Jason points to. However, the truth is you don’t need them, and you certainly don’t need me either. It is possible for you and your team to rise about your current situation without any help. However, if you’re in the midst of a team, it can be difficult to see your truth, and so outside support can help you improve quicker.
 
We are always striving to bring the right tools into the work we do with teams, which makes it impossible for us to tell you exactly what your leadership program will look like. It would be fairly arrogant of us, or any consultant, to tell you we have the right answer. Don’t worry though, if you are looking for a prescription there are plenty of options available to you.
 
So think of the following as a framework or a guideline, and it could never be something prescriptive regarding how to apply it. This framework is how we think when we’re assembling leadership programs, and also what guides us as we dive in and learn things together. We use this framework to guide our thinking, and with each step we look back towards this framework as we decide where-to-from-here. 
 
This framework does not provide a comprehensive definition of leadership laying out the prescribed tools to use at each step. Instead, the framework is intended to provide a perspective from which to think about and design your life as a leader. It is through this you will discover the models, frameworks, process, tools, etc. which fit into each of the layers. 

A framework

The following is a summary describing the framework we lean on. As we continue our work we will continue to share lots of additional thoughts & information through my writing, an upcoming podcast, webinars and hopefully before long the first book. Watch this site and social media for announcements as those things happen.
 
Like all frameworks, we know this won’t resonate with everyone and that’s fine. However, we want to know what you think so please use the contact form and send us your thoughts.

 

Where to start

It’s been my experience most leaders start at the top of this triangle. With all the best intentions they are always jumping into action, almost seemingly by default. Unfortunately, despite their good intention starting here is the home of micromanagement, autocratic approaches or any action which is directive in nature. 
 
Great leaders are the ones who start instead at the bottom of the triangle and seem to know the key to great leadership is within themselves. Always seeking to expand your leadership is foundational as you can only lead others as far as you can lead yourself. 
 
You don’t need to stay here though and wait for something to be perfect. Just get started with yourself, and from this start you can move up the framework. As you discover new things or encounter challenges at each step, just never forget to continue returning to the foundation: you.

The Leader in you  

One of the most important things to know about your leadership is that your greatest strength and limitation is in who you are. If you believe you cannot lead a group of 100, then you will not be able to lead a group of 100. If you think something is not possible, then you will make yourself right, and it won’t be possible. If you believe you’re being judged, then you will be correct in that belief.
 
These things will turn out to be true because these are the limitations you put on yourself through your stories. Getting in our own way is why strong leaders invest an incredible amount of time in themselves before they start to work with others. Leaders are clear on who they are, how they hold themselves back, what values they hold which guide their actions and much more. Leaders work hard to take responsibility for their impact. 
 
This basis is necessary for leaders to be impactful, and as they have new experiences, they continue to reflect those experiences back to who they are as a leader. It’s a place to draw strength from and recover to who you are, and to reground you in what’s important. 

Relationships

Leaders are in constant relationship with the world around them. What makes our relationships so important, is the beautiful diversity and messiness of us humans. It’s what makes us such incredible and wondrous creatures, and at the same time so incredibly complex and unpredictable. 
 
To be in an effective relationship with others means to meet them where they are. To not let their stories stop your story,  and at the same to not try to fix their stories. Truthfully, there is nothing wrong with you or them, as you’re both just approaching life from where they are today. 
Fear is “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain or a threat.” Your life experiences form a set of stories you use to protect yourself, or more accurately keep you in your comfort zone. Unfortunately, though, the comfort zone is not where change and our best work happens. Instead, the comfort zone is the place of coping and just wanting to make it through another day in hopes tomorrow will be better. 
 
Fostering personal safety makes it possible for you and others to stretch themselves. To move beyond the tried and true, and take a risk for this sake of something more. Without safety, innovation is impossible, and arguably the same holds true for a better world. Simply put, without safety for you and those around you, your leadership will be limited to taking action, and you will struggle to create excellent outcomes.

Motivation

Motivation is central to people wanting to take action. This is as applicable to you as a leader, as it is to those you lead. The problem you bump into is how prevalent extrinsic motivators are in the world. Where great action comes from is when intrinsic motivators are placed ahead of the extrinsic ones. This is why we say to start with “Why?” And why understanding our purpose or desired impact is so important to your leadership. When we know and are committed to the impact we want in the world, no one needs to motivate us as it just comes from within.

Action

Along with all the good work you’re doing in the first four levels, at times there will still be a reason to take action as a leader. When you do find a situation which warrants action on your part, it’s important to know the people who know how to take action best are the people closest to the work. Sure there may be times you have some past experience which may provide some useful insight, but the moment you stopped doing that work you started to have dated information about the work. 
 
So the place to start is in what is known as the power cycle. Rather than jumping straight into action, spend time with the people to look at the problem and help them gain clarity about what’s true about the situation. When you do this, you will often find they will suddenly know what to do with it. However, when necessary be sure to offer up suggestions rather than direction. Then, return yourself to your foundation and provide them the leadership needed to move things forward.