The best leaders in my opinion are guided by a strong sense of duty and responsibility. The individuals that succeed in motivating, inspiring and even changing the lives and careers of others operate with an underlying philosophical foundation that they draw upon to remain focused and steadfast in pursuing their daily activities.
Everyone else sort of wanders through the leadership woods, reacting more on instinct than acting as if they are being guided by a stronger sense of purpose and duty.
First-time leaders wander a great deal, often because they are thrust into the very difficult role of a leader without much more than a pat on the back and a disingenuous “let me know if you need any help.” Others get a two-day training class and a binder of materials that sit on the shelf in their offices for the next few years.
Mid-career leaders that survived those awkward first few years often settle into a pattern that includes guiding people on tasks and managing to minimize their own personal risk.
In both cases, the cost to our organizations is huge in real and in psychic terms. Floundering first-time leaders create tremendous disruption and take a significant toll on the unwitting victims around them. Mid-manager malaise sucks the energy and life out of a team and entire organizations, resulting in an employee culture where everyone seems to be walking around with their feet encased in concrete.
Unfortunately, I see far more concrete-encased teams and managers and floundering first-time leaders than those guided by a clear sense of duty and responsibility. I also hear from a lot of people that are caught up in those traps seeking a way out.
The good news is that many express a desire to change. First-time leaders would rather succeed than flail and a great number of people that have had the leadership life sucked out of them would like to renew and re-energize their careers.
One of the activities that I encourage those interested in changing and improving is to craft some form of personal philosophical statement that will guide and serve as a frequent reminder as to their true role. I have my own, and I call it The Leader’s Charter.
I’ve written about this before. It’s one of those topics and one of those important tools that bears repeating. The Charter helps remind me of my True North as a leader and allows me to align my priorities properly when I feel them drifting in the face of the urgent-unimportant. My version reads as follows:
Art’s Personal Leader’s Charter:
My primary role as a leader is to create an environment that:
Facilitates high individual and team performance against company and industry standards
Supports and promotes innovation in processes, programs and approaches
Encourages collaboration where necessary for objective achievement
Promotes the development of my associates in roles that leverage their talents and interests and that challenge them to new and greater accomplishments.
I developed this as a younger leader and refined it over time based on my own experiences…both the successes and the failures. The words are noble and the thoughts lofty, but every word and phrase has a very distinct meaning for me in my leadership life.
I anchor on creating the effective environment as a core priority; never lose track of the fact that my firm is looking for performance and innovation and last and most important of all, I remind myself that my highest and best use is to help others develop.
The Charter has served me well.
Perhaps you know someone that is earnest in their desire to improve and hungry for something that will give context to their activities as a leader. Encourage them or help them create their own Charter. Use mine or parts of mine if it fits, or create something new from the ground up.
And when you or they are finished, put the charter in a place of prominence to both remind you of your role and priorities but also to show others how you view your role and what they can expect from you as a leader.
The words are important but of course, they are the easy part. The real payoff comes in striving to live up to Your Leader’s Charter.