By Jonathan Walters
Whether you are leading teams in a multi-million-dollar business, launching a tech startup, volunteering at a local charity, or coaching your kids at soccer, you all know the intrinsic value of great leadership. But while you know great leadership when you see it, it is often challenging to define, hard work to develop, and difficult to see in yourself the abilities that you admire in others.
There is a seemingly endless list of ever-expanding leadership qualities, characteristics, and traits from which to choose. But how do you know whose example to follow, and how do you know what strategies will work in your environment? Isn’t there a quick checklist to follow, a podcast to listen to, or an app to download so you can get this right?
The beauty of great leadership is that it is shaped by timeless principles that do not change. One of the greatest places to check this out is to kick it old school and look at the lives, actions, emotions and impact of those who have gone before us – way, way before us. According to Guinness World Records, the Bible (or the holy scriptures, or the Good Book – whatever name you use to describe it) has sold more than 5 billion copies, easily making it the most widely promulgated book in history. Regardless of what you believe or don’t believe about the authors or content, its pages contain some amazing examples of leadership styles and methods that can easily translate into today’s modern business cultures, and forever change the way you lead.
The reality is that leadership is not easy; and although you may readily see it displayed in the lives and actions of others, it can often feel like you are not equipped to stand up and take on the point position. The following five examples of leadership styles and actions are people, who just like you and me, may have felt under qualified, under resourced, and without the perfect background, education, or training for the position in which they found themselves. But their leadership revealed itself as visionary, relentless, humble, courageous, and compassionate. I think you would all agree that if someone described you as any of those types of leader you would be proud to accept the description.
Imagine if you were pulled into a position of political leadership you never really wanted or expected and the moment you stepped into the role, the entire situation around you devolved into a virtual tinderbox of tension, death threats, and pushed you and your opposition to the brink of destruction. That is exactly where a man named Moses found himself. In the beginning of his leadership story he was reluctant at best, and often wanted nothing more than to shift his responsibilities to those around him rather than bear the weight himself. However, as the turmoil around him intensified and the pressures increased, he became a true visionary, and did what every leader must do – paint a picture of a future that people cannot wait to see. It was through the constant communication of a vision that connected the work, sacrifice, and tireless efforts of those he was tasked to lead with something greater than themselves.
Our role as leaders must follow this example of casting a vision that is clear so our teams understand, a vision that is concise so our teams can repeat it, and a vision that is compelling enough that our teams will give everything to make it a reality.
The culture of your company, organization or team is always an accurate reflection of the vision you are speaking and living each day. If you don’t like what you see, it’s a great opportunity to begin making the changes that need to be made. Today is a great day to start painting a more compelling picture.
Question: Does your team know your vision, can they repeat it, and are they willing to work hard to move toward it?
Have you ever found yourself way outside your comfort zone, but in that moment you knew what you had to do, and only you could get it done? Maybe you were tasked with a project that was bigger than anything you had tackled before, maybe the risks required were more than you ever thought you’d be willing to take, or maybe the situation demanded more of you than you thought you could honestly give. Fear, doubt, and insecurity were all telling you that you should stay right where you are, don’t take the chance, leave it to someone else; but deep down inside you knew that if this was going to happen, the time was now and you were the person who had to do it. You are not alone. Nehemiah was a leader who lost everything. In fact, his homeland had come under attack by a foreign power; his hometown was destroyed; and he found himself a prisoner in a faraway land where he didn’t speak the language, didn’t understand their culture, and didn’t know what would happen next. It would have been easy, even acceptable, to give up and give in when the circumstances were stacked that high against him, but instead he moved to a mindset that all great leaders must possess. He became relentlessin his work and efforts to return to his home and begin the rebuilding process – no matter the risk, no matter the costs, no matter the snarky comments from those who thought he was crazy to even try. As leaders, you have a great responsibility that when you know what needs to be done, nothing should be able to stand in your way.
You work in a competitive marketplace where it can be easy to look around you and think that everyone else has the advantage, more talent, more skill, more resources, more credibility, and a bigger network – and maybe they do. And you have all heard the voices of fear, doubt, and insecurity telling you to not even try to compete.
You may not be able to control your competition, shift the market, or define price points, but what each of you can do is be relentless; and your teams need to see that within you. It will inspire, it will motivate, it will engage those around you to work toward a goal that maybe they never thought possible; and it begins with stepping outside your comfort zone and, when you know what needs to be done, letting nothing stand in your way.
Question: Have you defined exactly what it is that you, and only you, need to be doing each day; and are you putting everything you have into making it happen?
If you could have anything, what would it be? No really, think bigger. If someone came to you and said the world is all yours and you can have anything in it – all you have to do is ask – what would it be? Would it be all the money you could imagine? Would it be unending power and control? There was a person who actually faced this decision and came up with a very different answer than what you might expect. The story unfolds as Solomon is already a king of a powerful nation and seems to have a life that many would see as a dream come true. But he has a spiritual encounter in which God offers him anything, holding nothing back. All Solomon has to do is choose, and he chooses – wait for it – wisdom.
What? Why in the world, if given the opportunity to have literally anything, would that be where you landed? As surprising as it might seem, I believe his decision was shaped by great leadership, and it was this that enabled him to choose to be humble. He understood that one’s position would never outpace one’s need to learn.
People often view a move into management, executive leadership, ownership, or becoming a team lead as a point of arrival, when the opposite is true. The transition to a new role must be seen as a starting line for you to pursue a deeper level of knowledge and understanding of your particular skillset and capacity. Those you are charged to lead deserve more from you than watching you rest on our current capabilities and prior accolades. If you are not learning, if you are not growing, if you are not expanding your capacity, then you simply are not the leader you need to be, and you are inhibiting both yourself and those who follow you from realizing their full potential. Be humble, start learning.
Question: What are you actively learning today and how will you share that with those who are following your leadership?
Something went terribly wrong. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Everything was going so well and, all of a sudden, a more ominous darkness than ever imagined was poised to threaten not only her family, but also her entire nationality through systematic extermination. Esther had risen to fame, prominence, and the position of queen by becoming the wife of the most powerful man in the ancient world; and she should have been living a life of lavish luxury. Instead, Esther found herself embroiled in a violent conspiracy set on destroying everything she loved. Rather than recoil in terror, withdraw from the situation to focus on protecting herself, or run from the challenge of those turned against her, she quite literally embraced the risk and boldly stood up, walked towards the danger, and gave voice to those who could not speak for themselves. Her legacy is an enduring example of the courageousleadership that is so often demanded when circumstances, powers, and authorities take a position of oppression against the most vulnerable of this world. This example is one that all those who step into the position of leading others must be willing to take, realizing that you will never regret risking yourself for the benefit of others.
You will probably never face obstacles quite so dramatic in the companies and organizations you serve. But no matter what you do, there will always be those who need you to rise up, step forward, and speak out on their behalf. This may be as simple as going to bat for your sales team when they need more support, designing a workspace that costs more but offers greater protection to your workers, or potentially paying yourself less when those on your staff need more. Whatever the circumstances or situation, it takes a courageous leader to make the tough calls. But looking back on those decisions, you can rest assured that you will never regret the risks you took to better serve those you are privileged to lead.
Question: Are you actively taking risks that will make a lasting and positive difference in the lives of those you serve?
At the end of a long day, week, project, or sales cycle you can easily feel like you just want to be left alone, take a break, or need some time to spend by yourself. This makes perfect sense after meeting deadlines, reviewing metrics, and pouring your energy into getting something over the last hurdle and to the finish line.
Time after time, it seemed like Jesus dealt with this exact same scenario. Although he may not have had to hit a sales quota, improve customer satisfaction scores, or post positive quarterly results for the board of directors to review, he was under constant scrutiny and infinite demand as he interacted with those who loved him, as well as those who hated him. And yet, in the midst of all the chaos that surrounded his life, it was when he stopped everything, saw the true needs of those he interacted with, and willingly gave of himself to reach the most broken and forgotten, that he impacted the world forever. His compassionateleadership is a reminder to anyone that our greatest influence exists where we meet the greatest need.
For any and all leaders, you must constantly push yourself to evaluate the work you do in light of the purpose you serve and the people you lead. Do you know the needs of those around you, including your customers and your employees? Are you working hard to learn what is motivating them and who is engaging them? Can you articulate how their needs are best met, and are you connecting them with something larger than themselves? You can continuously seek and find satisfaction in accomplishment, financial stability, and prestige, but your greatest reward and satisfaction should be found in influencing others to become better and help them accomplish more than they ever thought possible.
Question: Who is in your sphere of influence, right now, that has a need you are able to meet?
As you stop to consider your own leadership style and actions, where do you best connect with the examples presented here? What old-school ideas do you think would have the biggest impact on your modern leadership? Are you a true visionary, tirelessly painting a picture of a world people cannot wait to see? Would those around you say you are relentless; when you know what needs to be done, you let nothing stand in your way to make it happen? Perhaps you are at a moment where the best way to lead is to be humble, understanding your position will never outpace your need to learn. Maybe it’s time for you to step forward and be courageous, accepting the reality that you will never regret the risks you take for the benefit of others. And finally, it may be time to accept the fact that one of the greatest leadership styles you can embrace is when you choose to be compassionate, because your greatest influence exists where you meet the greatest need.
I think a challenge for all of you, in any type of leadership capacity, is answering the question: “What do those around me need most from me right now?” Thinking through this, and being able to articulate a clear answer is a great guide to becoming the visionary, relentless, humble, courageous and compassionate leader this world needs.
Jonathan Walters is a coach at Team@Work, LLC. He has spent more than 20 years leading and growing organizations in roles including director of sales, executive vice president, president, and managing consultant. His focus centers on leading through learning and pushing both individuals and teams to take an innovative approach to impacting the communities they serve by growing leaders, enhancing the customer experience, and creating mission-driven organizational structures. Encouraging individuals to grow into the leaders they were created to be and inspiring teams and organizations to move from chaos to clarity is Jonathan’s primary coaching goal. Visit www.teamatworkcoaching.com for more information.