The One Thing EVERY Leader Needs to Be!

In the 1991 movie City Slickers, Billy Crystal plays Mitch, a man going through a midlife crisis who joins two of his friends on a cattle drive in the southwest. While on the drive, Mitch asks Curly, in Jack Palance’s Academy Award winning performance as the cowhand, “Do you know what the secret of life is?” Curly holds up one finger and tells him, “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean s@#t.” When Mitch ask him what the one thing is, Curly tells him, “That’s what you have to find out.”

The same is true about leadership. It really comes down to one thing that EVERY leader needs to be. Unlike Curly in the movie, I’m going to tell you that one thing because it’s surprisingly simple yet difficult at the same time. The one thing every leader needs to be is Themself. When I present or teach a leadership course, that is the third slide in the deck after the introduction. What you still have to figure out though, how it is best for you to lead. After all, you can’t lead like me and I can’t lead like you. Sometimes, being yourself may not be enough, but that’s okay, all of us are not destined to be great leaders. Just be the best you that you can be at whatever level you reach.

“Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple and it is also that difficult.”

Warren Bennis

The first step in any leadership journey should be self-discovery. The leader or aspiring leader has to understand who they are as a person and as a leader. They can then create a personal leadership philosophy around that. If you don’t know yourself, how can you expect to lead others.

Therefore, if you find yourself in a session or reading a book where the speaker or author is telling you how to lead like them, you’re probably in the wrong session or need to start a new book. It’s okay to pick up tidbits and ideas from different leaders, but you have to own it when you use it. You can’t completely emulate them. You have to find your own leadership style that works for your personality and character. I know I’ve picked up a lot of leadership tips/actions from people throughout my career. One I remember and still use to this day was as a young auditor, I brought a problem I identified to my supervisor. Instead of telling me how to resolve it, he would always ask me, “What do you think we should do Bryan?” After the first week at the client, I realized I needed to think through some possible solutions before I talked to him. This was his way of encouraging me to utilize my critical thinking skills.

“If you really want to improve your leadership, work on the one thing over which you have control – yourself!”

– J. Bryan Bennett

The four areas leaders need to develop a personal leadership strategy around include:

  • Connecting with your team. Connected team members view the leader as someone who is approachable, which can lead to identifying problems before they become unmanageable.
  • Motivating your team. Motivated teams recognize the task at hand and work to complete them in a timely manner.
  • Directing your team. Regardless of how connected or motivated your team is, they still require the leader’s direction to understand the priorities and accomplish the tasks at hand.
  • Inspiring your team. Inspired teams go over and above the minimum requirements to accomplish the tasks faster, or better with minimal surprises. Connection alone is not enough. Your team needs to also be inspired to do more than what is expected.

A personal leadership strategy will provide the leader with that rudder or internal GPS to keep them on track when challenges arise. Your team members will also appreciate the consistency that it provides. They will know what to expect from you and can be better prepared. Work on this simple truth and you will be on the path to a becoming a better leader.

What are some leadership tidbits you have picked up in your career? Please share in the comments below.

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