By Matt Michalak
Leadership. Easily one of the hottest topics in any organization, leadership is the art of gathering, garnering and cultivating a following among other individuals. If you were to do a quick search on the topic you will quickly find a slew of articles, advice and books ready to tell you exactly how to be an effective leader. While a lot of that information can be helpful, most would agree that life experience, both in being led and being a leader, is where we really learn what works and what does not. So instead of looking at more effective leadership qualities, we decided to take a stab at the question what are Leadership Cornerstones?
We are all highly unique with very different talents and approaches. One thing is for sure…there is no cookie cutter for us as leaders, but we all have our own unique leadership cornerstones, that do group into 3 key areas that we will explore below. As you reflect on this and your leadership, I encourage you to consider…what are your Leadership Cornerstones?
At 34 Strong, I work directly with leadership in all levels of organizations to integrate Strengths into culture. As you can imagine, I have had the pleasure of seeing leadership styles of every variety. However, what many don’t know about me is that I have been working with leadership across several companies for the last ten years. I have been a sitting executive in multiple organizations and have been leveraged in an advisory role many times. It is this experience that brought me to 34 Strong and why I am such an avid proponent of Strengths as a guiding light for leadership.
In this post we explore why, from my experience, I believe in the StrengthsFinder assessment is the most effective and necessary tool for leading other individuals and building strong organizations. I want to clarify that leadership, as mentioned earlier, is a position that stretches across many organizations. While “Strengths” is generally talked about from an organizational basis it is important to remember that leadership is found in the home, on the playground, on the field/court, in the classroom, among peers, in organizations and all the way up the ladder. Leadership happens at every level of life and should be cultivated with that fact in mind.
That being said, I won’t get extremely detailed and give you the top 100 ways to become the world’s best leader…we are all uniquely different and that is our brilliance. Rather, there are a solid 3 Leadership Cornerstones that everyone should be aware of when developing their leadership skills.
Leadership Cornerstones – #1: Know yourself
Each of us is an individual with unique talents and gifts. If I were to sit here and tell you that you should follow my leadership style to lead your people I could quite possibly be doing you a huge disservice… not to mention your people. You have a leadership style living inside of you. The trick is to learn who you are, develop that person and apply your style to the development of others. Strengthsfinder is the key to unlocking awareness about the unique talent that every one of us possesses. First, understanding and applying individual’s strengths unlocks individual potential. The findings of Gallup are clear in that we each hold natural, visceral talents that are nearly as unique to us as our fingerprints. Knowing exactly what talents I have affords me the ability to focus on those areas and realize exceptional growth and mature my talent into strength. Its only at the point that I know myself, my contributions and my particular needs that I can offer myself in a leadership capacity.
Leadership Cornerstones – #2: Know your people
Nothing is harder than watching a leader in an organization not understand their people. The ensuing miscommunication, resentments and hatred for work is a very real problem in many organizations. In working with organizations through my role at 34 Strong I have witnessed managers and leaders take the “this person is insubordinate” perspective more often than I would like. The reality, for the most part, is an issue of not understanding how that person operates and what they need to become an engaged, effective member of the team. Just as it is important for the leader to understand his/her contribution and needs it is equally or more important for the leader to understand what the contributions and need of their people are. Having this information is the most powerful component to leading others. Armed with “knowing” your people and what they contribute gives the leader leverage power. A leader can then extract talent from team members while feeding their needs. Time and time again I have seen disengaged teams with resentment, and communication issues snap out of it and learn to work as a unit.
Leadership Cornerstones – #3: Know where you are going
A common, clear goal is an absolute must. In 34 Strong we often quote the phrase “A confused mind does nothing.” Good leaders are clear about the mission. When asked, they can convey their destination without hesitation. Great leaders have teams that can do it just the same. Leadership is about commonality, unity, consensus and a fellowship. Give them a purpose and they will march in lockstep. Understand who you are and what kind of leader you are and understand who they are and how to leverage them and you become a force. People can feel power and when you allow Strengths to guide how you leverage your people you automatically tap into a powerful resource.
Know yourself, know your people and know where you are going. Those that have these three components will always gather, garner and cultivate a following among their people. It just so happens that the StrengthsFinder is a tool that unlocks a very high level of self-awareness to this end.
So, how self-aware are you as a leader? Are you aware of your natural talent go-to’s and things you must watch out for? As a result of your self-awareness, do you know your people? Are you team aware of each individual and how that culminates collectively toward knowing where you are going? If not, perhaps it is time to take the StrengthsFinder.
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Matt Michalak is a Strengths Development Consultant for 34 Strong.
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