The Power of Personal Leadership
By Diane (Diana) Wiesenthal, FCHRP
Corporate People Responsibility® (CPR) Ltd.
Have you ever stopped to think about what you want your legacy to be? More than likely, it’s a thought that rarely comes to mind because we are so preoccupied just trying to survive in the working world; looking after our families and managing the home-front; contributing to society by doing some volunteer work; spending time learning and in formal education; spending time with family; and even carving out just a bit of time to stay connected with friends.
No matter the busy lives we lead, having a vision and plan for ourselves is a critical exercise to undertake throughout our entire lives. If we don’t have a personal plan, we could be running in circles just doing “things” and handling “stuff”, but getting nowhere. One of the most profound statements to illustrate this goes like this – “vision without action is a dream, action without vision is a nightmare!”
When we think about vision, we should be reminded that every single person has the ability to take a leadership role and to be a leader – despite conventional perception you don’t need a formal title or job to be one. It starts with our own personal accountability and core values and what we believe, and then consistently demonstrating actions so every person regardless of their role or position experience the same things on a consistent basis.
Having a personal leadership vision is critical in achieving both personal, organizational and community success.
Learning & Leadership – it’s in you to give! Learning is a life long journey and we all learn in the following manner: first we are “Unconsciously Incompetent” that just means we “don’t know what we don’t know, until we know it”. Then we move to “Consciously Incompetent” meaning now at least we know what we have to learn. The next phase is “Unconsciously Competent” meaning we are starting to master the work we are doing without even knowing it. And finally we become “Consciously Competent” meaning we are confident in our abilities and our performance consistently exceeds expectations. But don’t get too comfortable there. The minute you take on a new job or role the whole process starts all over again. But as we take on more and more new tasks, at least the process is more understandable and it becomes easier.
In setting our leadership goals, start by:
- Establishing a vision for yourself – What are your dreams for your self, your family, your job and career, your community?
- Observe leaders who are successful and admired by others – talk to them about their journey and lessons they learned along the way.
- Look at the characteristics of what makes them successful – write them down and ask these leaders why these traits are important to them.
- Assess your own strengths – what are you great at, what are you good at, what are you not so good at? (We can’t be good at everything!)
- Ask for feedback from trusted colleagues and friends – but be prepared to just listen and don’t argue or debate the information they give to you.
- Be aware of how people respond to you when you interact with them – what do their facial expressions tell you, their body language, and their words? Are they supportive or argumentative?
- Identify the top three skills that you want to work on – what are they?
- Make a five-year plan of specific actions and activities you can take on to help you increase and improve these skills. Volunteering is an excellent way to build skills, whether on the job by taking on additional projects, helping colleagues, or in community organizations.
- Think about success factors and write these down in your plan – I will be successful if?
Refining your leadership skills. The right balance of a leadership “attitude” is critical to effectiveness. As a smart general rule to follow for success, “take your job seriously, but take yourself lightly”! That goes for every position – from front line service people to executives. Often when people assume leadership roles, they let the power of the role go to their head. Command and control leadership only works for a short time and these people are rarely, if ever, successful in a sustainable manner. At the root of the “power” issue is that people become overconfident and that is not an endearing quality in anyone, especially in a leader. The credibility of those individuals suffer because people do not respect the person in the role.
Examining the characteristics of great leadership. People who are successful leaders are people who know humility and who treat people with the utmost respect at all times. Generally these individuals will be respected and well regarded at all levels – by employees, managers, leaders, Board of Directors, Councils, and communities at large. The key is, they never abuse, misuse or misappropriate the power of their role and they make decisions in a consistent and fair manner – no biases.
These leaders will be:
- Genuine by truly caring about people, taking an interest in individuals around them and what’s happening their lives.
- Fair by treating all people as equals, regardless of roles or their temperament.
- Calm under pressure and don’t add more anxiety into tense situations by blaming or pointing fingers.
- Respectful with their words and remove all negative emotions such as anger and frustration from their communications with others.
- Helpers by assisting others to be successful.
- Keen listeners and collaborators to leverage the ideas of many.
- Analytical with good judgment by asking the right questions and not jumping to conclusions.
- Inspiring to rally positive actions to support work places, families and communities.
- Humorous by leading with laughter and building fun environments where people work hard and play hard.
Leadership action needs a good dose of courage! As a leader, I’ve had to make a lot of unpopular and politically sensitive decisions. As a result, I’ve lost some friends and made a few enemies along the way. But by doing so, it also created a strong path of credibility for doing the right thing for the right reasons – irrespective of the political fallout.
As leaders, when you are faced with tough choices the moral compass is your greatest guide. If you become afraid, ask yourself “what’s the worst that can happen” by making the right decision? Then ask yourself “what’s the worst that can happen if I make the wrong decision for the wrong reason, or do nothing?” Generally you will find yourself in a heap more trouble in the latter situation, maybe not immediately, but it will find you even in the cleverest hiding spots. Stand up for the right reasons, at the right times.
The power of “I-magine” – imagination, thinking, believing and igniting action are the keys to success.
Imagine your entire team as a “life line” and inspire everyone to support each other and be kind to one another. Remove all negative emotions and replace with respect, compassion and care. Remove “revenge” from the equation – and always take the high road.
Think beyond your immediate line of sight and uncover barriers then take action to go the extra mile. Work proactively where possible to avoid reacting to situations. And when all else fails remember “YCFS” (You Can’t Fix Stupid!). Pick your timing to take the right actions.
Believe that a person, who never does more, never gets paid for more. Invest in your long-term career growth and don’t focus on immediate paybacks. Remember doing something over doing nothing is a step in the right direction. Don’t sweat the small stuff or worry about the things you can’t control.
Ignite Action and have FUN along the way. At the end of the day, our work places, our homes and communities are like giant sandboxes. Sometimes someone throws sand in our face, accidently or deliberately. Sometimes we don’t get the toys that we wanted or we have to wait our turn. Focus on your leadership legacy and along the way remember to:
Laugh to release tension;
Laugh at ridiculous situations;
Laugh with people, and inspire everyone to build a better world.
About the Author
Diana (Diane) Wiesenthal, FCHRP created and leads a company called Corporate People Responsibility® Ltd. (CPRinc). Previously she was a member of the executive for the Canadian Wheat Board as Vice President, People & Organizational Services. She is a past President of NAHRMA, CCHRA, and HRMAM. Based on her international leadership experience, Diana was selected by the United States, People to People Ambassadors organization to lead senior international HR delegations to various parts of the world. Her academic training in HR management was completed at Queen’s University (executive program), the University of Manitoba and Red River College. She obtained her professional human resource designation, CHRP, in 1993, and was awarded the Fellow designation in 2012. Diane was a Governance Advisor to CAHRMA for several years during its creation.