Stepping up to the leadership moment

Imagine being in an office setting that’s
been totally stripped of the trappings of executive status and power. There are no corner offices, no executive washrooms, no private elevators. No one is allowed to sit at the head of the table in meeting because there is no table (or if there is, it’s round). So how does the group’s leader emerge?
In my experience leadership arises out of circumstances. Something happens to group and someone in the group steps up to take charge. Leaders are born when this isolated display of leadership becomes pattern. It’s simple equation: Leadership repeated creates leaders. In that sense, if you want to be recognised as leader you must first recognise situations that demand leadership. For example:

1. Filling power vacuum
The best chance to display leadership is when you spot power vacuum. This happens more than you think. Power vacuums emerge when:
? the boss is out of town or out of reach;
? the boss is out of his depth (and doesn’t know it);
? the boss is out of his depth (and knows it);
? the boss won’t take charge;
? no one else is willing to make decision.
If you’ve got the skills and confidence to fill the vacuum, that’s the first true test of leadership. But first you have to notice that vacuum exists.

2. Identifying problem
This is one of the great chances to display leadership – and also the most frequently missed. Anyone can identify problem in business. What determines leadership potential is what you do afterwards.
Some people hand the problem over to their immediate superior. (They defer it.) Some bring it up at meeting, in order to toss it around among their peers, hoping for collective solution. (They share it). Some hope it will go away. (They deny it.)
The appropriate response is to embrace it. I can’t think of surer sign of leadership potential. If someone in our company identifies problem, I’d not only expect them to have solution, but I’d insist they carry it out. And I’d wonder if they tried to avoid doing so. What other responsibilities are they shirking? Are they just good at pointing fingers at messy situations but reluctant to get their hands dirty cleaning them up? Leaders know that if you identify problem, you own the solution.

3. Taming crisis
The way people respond to crisis is as rich and varied as people themselves. Some people get overheated and angry, responding with emotion to situation that requires calculation. Others panic or recede into the background, hoping to avoid dealing with the crisis.
The best response is to become cool, calm and methodical. This not only has soothing effect on people who are panicking or overreacting, but gives you the necessary repose to analyse the situation and come up with solution.
To many people, crisis is the defining moment for would-be leaders. But it’s easy to overrate crisis management as leadership skill.
Being cool in crisis, in and of itself, isn’t the mark of leader, nor is being cool in many crises. These are just transitory displays of leadership. You need to add other admirable qualities to the mix.
If all you have going for you is an ability to handle crises people will soon tire of your act. They’ll want to know why there’s always crisis around you. They might even get jittery when they see you coming. You need other arrows in your leadership quiver.

4. Improving the quality of life
Not every leadership situation is obvious. I know CEO who is reserved, unintrusive, incapable of confrontation, and not particularly inspiring as public speaker. On the other hand, he commands tremendous loyalty and hard work from his subordinates.
When I asked him what his secret was, he said, “I try to make life easier for everyone else.”
He’s done that by removing obstacles, creating new responsibilities for people when they were ready for more challenges, and organising the hierarchy so people never felt excluded.
It’s hard to point to any single action he’s taken that constitutes bold leadership. But it’s tough to argue with the results. Where some leaders like to engineer creative conflict, this CEO has decided to lead by creating harmony. The net result, though, is that people will follow him anywhere.

Mark McCormack is the founder of International Management Group. www.successsecrets.com

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