Photo: Tresal Photography
Devon Ryan is IEEE-USA’s Young Professionals Voice columnist, and the Young Professionals Representative on the IEEE-USA Board of Directors. Follow him on Twitter @DevonRyanI.
Everyone will lead at some point in their lives ― it’s inevitable. Whether it’s your personal or professional life, one thing is certain, your relationships with people will be affected by your ability to lead. A certain way to maximize your success is to foster the fundamentals required to lead ― so when the time comes, you naturally perform. We all have it in us. Some of us just need to nourish the skill a little more than others.
Many books have already been written on this topic, but for the sake of time, we will zoom in on the three key elements of genuine leadership. What are these key elements?
The first element requires the ability to…have a vision.
If there were one thing that I would want you to take away from this article, it would be to have a vision. Your vision is an end-goal ― a destination. Think about it. Without an end-goal, where are you headed? More importantly, where would you lead a group?
Too many times, I encounter people who don’t embody a goal. A goal is a future marker. It’s something to work toward and strive for! The good news is that most people naturally have a desire to look toward the future. Well, at least motivated individuals do ― and that’s the type you want to surround yourself with. Some people just need a little assistance. They need someone to help by providing them with a goal. And that’s where leaders come in. Leaders create the goal.
When I was elected in college to be president of the student association, U.T.S.A. IEEE, I was faced with the challenge to lead ten officers. Since so many of the previous officers had graduated, the organization was hanging by a thread ― it needed to be reignited. I was charged to revive this declining student organization. Rebuilding this organization was my goal, and I was determined to make it happen.
To achieve my goal, I could not implement my game plan alone. I needed the second element of leadership to get the job done. And that required me to…inspire action.
A vision alone won’t get you to the destination. Action is necessary to cover ground in your journey. If we want to make leaps and bounds; if we want to get the most out of our journey ― we need to embody the ability to inspire action.
When I set the vision for the team, I was determined to get the job done and complete the mission. It’s important to note that the team didn’t just hear determination by the fervor in my voice. They witnessed it. Almost as soon as the vision left my mouth, I was already on the drawing board trying to figure out how to make it happen. Time was of the essence, so I buckled down and got to work. To this day, I believe that the team was motivated by witnessing my actions. They wanted to figure out how to do it as well. Without even realizing it, I was inspiring action! When we are effectively leading, we are inspiring action, and I was achieving this through leading by example.
Everyone has their own unique way of inspiring action. Some other techniques include the following:
- Believe in people: Simply believe in someone’s ability, and they will be inspired. Everyone makes mistakes, but sometimes that’s the best antidote for learning.
- Leading by change: A change in environment can help peoples’ energy flow!
- Providing constructive feedback: A small tweak in someone’s ability could make a huge difference. Feedback ensures the team is constantly growing and improving.
True leaders are so focused on accomplishing the mission, that it’s contagious. They have the confidence that they can accomplish a goal, and they set out to make it happen. Eventually, people will believe ― and follow.
How do you know you are on the right path? Like steering a ship, it takes minor adjustments to your heading to stay on course. The team should help you, by providing their input at every step. To stay on course, the third element of leadership is vital…it’s safety.
Communication is key, and when the team feels safe they will feel empowered to share their input and insights. Safety is not only vital to staying on course, but it also helps you improve as a leader! When the team feels safe, they can provide you with the feedback you need along the way — making your own personal leadership journey that much more fulfilling.
Have you ever had a professor in school tell you the pass rate of his class is extremely low, and that “most of you in here today will not be in here tomorrow?” How safe did you feel? The most knowledgeable person on the topic of that class is telling you that your odds of learning this material against his/her standards is little to none. How can you focus if you do not feel safe? How is the professor supposed to improve his teaching abilities? It’s unlikely that the students will share feedback, if they do not feel safe.
Sometimes fear is instilled in people to make them productive. Although, this technique can work, it is not the most efficient way. This method just wears people down. Instead, build people up! Provide them with help and support. Remember: positivity trumps negativity any day. Read my article on embracing people for more insights.
When I was president of U.T.S.A. IEEE, my game plan to complete the mission was missing something, and I didn’t know what it was. Despite what we see in the movies, nobody has all the answers. And as a young, naïve college student, I knew I certainly didn’t. Fortunately, I possessed the mental fortitude to accept challenge. If your team doesn’t feel safe, they won’t challenge you. It will limit your scope. I feared not being challenged by my team. If everyone is silent, something is wrong.
Some leaders fear the opposite. They fear being challenged, so they instill an unsafe feeling in their team. Whether it’s due to ego, or personal insecurities, it doesn’t really matter. The substantial matter at hand is the team’s ability to collectively achieve a goal ― and it’s everyone’s responsibility to reach the destination. But it’s the leader who ultimately sets the goal and brings it to completion.
When the time comes to lead, you must take on the challenge for the missions’ success. Make sure the qualities you need to accomplish your leadership mission are in place.
Do you have a goal? Are you inspired to make it happen? Your ability to lead will solidify your confidence. Once you have reached your new level of confidence, share your solutions with other people ― and accomplish new heights along your journey!