The Work of a Leader at American Income Life
To lead successfully, a person must demonstrate two active, essential, and interrelated traits: expertise and empathy.
In my experience, both of these traits can be deliberately and systematically cultivated; this personal development is the first important building block of leadership.
The leadership equation has another vital piece as well.
Leaders are not only shaped by the environment; they also take active roles in remaking that environment in productive ways.
In other words, true leaders create organizations that support the exercise and cultivation of leadership. This can only be achieved through rigorous and systematic organizational development.
The work of leadership, therefore, is both personal and organizational.
The bad news is that this means hard work – lots of it. The good news is that leaders are made, not born. I’m convinced that anyone who wants to work hard enough and develop these traits can lead.
Expertise helps you in two ways:
1. It helps you do your job.
2. It reinforces you as a leader in the eyes of your people.
Owning the facts is a prerequisite to leadership. But there are millions of technocrats out there with lots of facts in their possession and little leadership potential.
In many cases what they are missing is empathy.
No one is a leader who can’t put himself or herself in the other person’s shoes. Empathy and Expertise command respect.
The Steps of Leadership
Cultivating leadership in you and in others should be done on both a personal and organizational level.
The first important step in the process may seem obvious: know yourself.
What is your expertise? What are your strenghthts? And just as important, what are your weaknesses and how can you improve?
Regularly scheduled self-examinations are a must for building and sustaining leadership.
Secondly, learn how and what to communicate.
This comprises not only good speaking skills but also good listening skills and the ability to project and interpret body language.
Advice: never pass up the opportunity to remain silent.
The third aspect of personal development relates directly to expertise: the leader has to know the goal/vision.
What needs to be accomplished?
How can your expertise most effectively be used to do the job?
Leaders have to do their homework.
When the elements of personal leadership are in place you can now focus on building an agency at American Income Life.
This kind of agency building depends, in large part, on your ability to empower and motivate others to lead.
1. Shape the Vision
Simple is better, since delegation depends on a shared understanding of the agency goal.
Use every tool you can toward building and reinforcing a shared vision.
The leader must define vision. But it is the manager and agency force that must define the objectives that move the agency toward the desired outcome.
- Thinking sessions, advanced training meetings, managers meetings
- Give and get feedback
What is the purpose of all this meeting and feedback?
In a sense, it is to touch/influence as many people, and as many kinds of people, as possible.
Leaders must be motivators, educators, role models, sounding boards, confessors, and cheerleaders – they must be accessible, and they must aggressively pursue contact with colleagues and subordinates.
In closing, I just want to tell you successful leadership is not mysterious.
Leaders must set their own agendas and use the tools and techniques best suited to help them achieve their goals.
But leadership is not entirely formulaic.
Leaders must trust their instincts and play their hunches. I’m convinced that if someone works hard at leadership, his or her instincts will tend to be right. His or her hunches will be based on expertise and empathy, and they’ll be good ones.
Leadership will seem to come easily.