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Leadership begins with a choice

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Years ago I was conducting a training program for managers that was focused on helping them lead their teams more effectively. We spent part of the workshop helping them create a process for understanding the goals of their team members and how important it was to align those personal goals with the job goals. Great leaders help people clarify the results they want to achieve and why those results matter.

One of the managers came up to me on a break and said, "I get this now, It's like I've been handing my team all kinds of tools but I haven't helped them figure out what kind of house they want to build. Just giving them another hammer really won't help until they understand that." This is one of the things that great leaders do for their teams. It's also one of the things they need to do for themselves. Most leaders simply go about the business of trying to change the performance or the behavior of others, without going through the process of defining why they want to lead, what kind of impact they want to have, and how they will measure their success as a leader.

In life, there are plenty of things that we can just do without thinking about the why. Leadership isn't one of those things. Why matters. It’s important to make choices about why you want to lead and use the feedback others give you, more through their actions than their words, to adjust how you lead. You can then get consistent repeatable results around things like changing behavior, improving performance, designing and building a culture of accountability and taking a rudderless mediocre team and transforming them into a focused effective group. Choosing to become the leader who can consistently do these things is critical. Without that conscious decision and without understanding why it matters for you personally, you probably won’t do the difficult diligent work of actually becoming that person.

After years of working with leaders to help them make that choice we have built an experience and a process that helps them execute this critical step. We use exercises that help them consider and answer questions like; “How do I want people on my team to talk about me at dinner?”, and “Why does it matter if I help people accomplish more with me than they could without me?” Going through this kind of process causes people to evaluate options and make choices that literally change who they want to be, and why. Without this step as part of the leadership development process, we would just be handing people more hammers.

If you want to become a better leader, take the time to define what that means for you. It doesn't matter yet what other people think a good leader looks like. Some of that might come when you work on the skill part of leadership development, but without the why, you’ll probably never approach the skill part with enough focus to get there.

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