February 2004 Insight Newsletter

What Distinguishes Leaders? One single thing distinguishes leaders – they choose to act more often. They don’t just wait for others or events and then react. They seek to move events forward themselves in directions they choose. Even more important is what distinguishes effective leaders – they seek balance as they act. While some do both of these naturally, most of us learn and improve over time.

“We are born purpose-seeking creatures. Purpose is necessary for our very health and survival.”
– Rick Leider
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1. Why Some Act and Others Don’t

No one can be sure whether we’re born with confidence and then gain or lose it as we encounter life, but it’s certain that some people reach adolescence and adulthood more confident than others. It’s this spark that first distinguishes who will choose to lead. Whether that choice is to lead others or simply ‘lead’ their own lives, it’s the same spark.

My approach is as a “practical motivator.” Fiery speeches aside, I prefer to inspire insight into how people can build for themselves on their own strengths. Each of us has areas of confidence. The coaching leadership style builds from what a person truly wants toward what they need to do now to take the first steps toward that. In between they encounter mostly their own hesitations. Even more important than learning to overcome the hurdles life imposes is learning to overcome one’s own hesitations about new initiatives.

Showing that even successful leaders had serious hesitations at first can help others understand they, too, can risk those first steps. Most often I find myself encouraging people to start on projects they’re drawn toward, but hesitate to try. We have tremendous ability to forge our way through all sorts of challenges. We’re highly educated and experienced by the time we’re through school. Almost nothing is powerful enough to stop us. Our problem-solving skills and ability to find and learn from other experts is enormous.

We can encourage people to see life and challenges as learning opportunities, to go into new tasks with the goal of becoming better and more balanced as they go, step by step. Remarkably, by doing this, we also encourage and inspire ourselves. Confidence is contagious. These simple sparks of leadership benefit us all.
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2. Life-Work Planning Helps

This month’s quote at top right is from Richard Leider’s book, The Power of Purpose: Creating Meaning in Your Life and Work. It’s one of many that encourage people to follow their passions, dreams or simply their strong interests throughout life. Doing more of what we enjoy ensures we become better at it and that in turn encourages us to go further – a virtuous circle – improving and strengthening confidence.

These days I’ve been recommending Barbara Moses’ new work, What’s Next, to many adults, especially job/career seekers (aren’t we all today?) Even those who aren’t thinking of new careers can benefit from periodic reviews of what’s meaningful for them in life and work. This is the first book since What Color is Your Parachute to really focus the struggle we have finding our way. Of course you don’t need books to do this. At any point you can simply spend time reviewing your goals. As little as 20 minutes doing this every five months has been shown to make you healthier, less stressed and more effective in all areas of life.

Sometimes the most difficult to focus on goals are kids. They don’t yet have much experience with adult “must do” tasks, so it’s hard to get them interested. Fortunately the Internet today is filled with interesting resources – just try putting “doing what you love” into Google. One example is this UK education site for students that offers them a simple route to basic career information via a short test linked on the home page.

We never get over the need to stay as clear as can be about what we truly want from life!
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3. Effective Leadership’s Rewards

Some people fear leadership because stepping forward means work. They may feel they’re not up to it for many reasons, but this is the only one that should be taken seriously. We must pay attention to our limits in this one sense – we must stay balanced. Our only true limit is time. We know when we start to feel over-committed and we need to find ways to trim tasks from our schedules when that happens.

Importantly the best way to reduce our schedules is to become more focused on our few top priority choices. Committing to them fully causes lesser priorities to drop away.

As we become more effective at leading ourselves in tasks we love, we build confidence and also the capacity to undertake more. Those who truly are doing what they truly love are fully able to take on the amazing added workloads that we marvel at. Why? Because it truly isn’t “work” – it’s energizing learning.
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