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Senior Correspondent

Who remembers the childhood game, Follow the Leader? Someone is arbitrarily named "the leader." "The leader" begins doing goofy things. Everyone else mimics the leader's actions, also doing goofy things. Players who are slow to catch on, disobey, or unable to mimic the leader are out of the game. The last person standing becomes the "New Leader." Do you ever wonder how much our early childhood programming impacts our relationship to Leadership today? I do.

What is leadership? Ask a dozen leadership gurus, get a dozen definitions. Type in "leadership books" at Amazon, and you'll find over 117,000 matches, likely just scratching the surface of what's out there. 

Yes, we have a few opinions on the subject but you already knew that, right? In our workshop, From individual contributor to leader, we cater to supervisors and managers who have been promoted to a leadership role, mostly because they were so darned good at their technical role. Astonishingly, their technical competencies rarely translate to what is needed for leading others.

We distinguish leadership from management in very simple terms that seem to resonate for many. Lead people. Manage things. Things include schedules, processes, material flow, metrics and other inanimate objects. They all need to be managed. People generally resent and resist being "managed." At some level, people who are managed feel diminished, thus diminishing the value and contribution they bring to any endeavor.

Put another way, we lead from the heart and manage from the head.

In order to excel at providing leadership services for others, we must first learn to lead ourselves. When we become effective leaders of ourselves, the impact we have on others will be positive and productive. When we are able to access the best in ourselves, we more easily and effortlessly access the best in those who look to us for leadership.

Leading ourselves is about knowing ourselves from a behavioral style and values perspective. How do we tend to operate, to communicate, to go about our work. What makes us tick? Why do we do what we do? What inspires us? What shuts us down? What about our strengths, talents and gifts? Are we able to access our talents and use them in our role? Are our talents and strengths a good match for the job requirements? What about our areas for improvement? Do we have a good handle on that? Do we have a plan to improve, and someone to coach or mentor us, helping hold us accountable? How are we handling mistakes — ours and others? Are we busy learning or are we busy blaming?

What kind of example are we setting? If everyone followed the leader (that would be you) would they be doing goofy things? Or, would they be giving their best to each aspect of their job?

No matter what your official job title is, you can step up your leadership. Leadership is about embracing your personal power, not waiting for someone to discover how wonderful you are and anointing you with more authority. It's about using your powers for good. And, it's about offering sincere apologies when you mess up and granting forgiveness to yourself and others when they make a mistake.  It's about using everything that happens to become a better leader. And, it's about bringing out the leader in those who look to you for leadership. And did I mention… humility? 

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