So, what happens when you get 21 leaders together to work on a project? I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing just such a scenario over the past year, and the insights I’ve come away with defy certain myths about leaders.
Myth #1: Leaders are egotistical. Real leaders don’t need to lead 100% of the time. They are able to contribute and accept the leadership of others. Not only that, they know the power of relationships, respect, communication and humility; key elements in being a successful leader. These are not egoistic attributes.
Myth #2: Leadership is a rare ability. Given the fact that there are leaders everywhere, it’s not as rare an ability as one might think. Without leaders inspiring people to accomplish common, shared goals, little would get done in this world. In our project team, every person who participated is an acknowledged leader within his or her company, industry or community.
Myth #3: The person with the highest title is the leader. Real leaders are acknowledged by their peers, supervisors and subordinates. It’s not a matter of position within an organization. It’s a matter of who has the best skills, knowledge and resources to enable the team to achieve a common, shared goal.
Myth #4: Leaders only give orders. While a leader may occasionally have to give an order or make a decision in a vacuum, the best leaders inspire rather than order. They do this by building relationships, which allows them to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the contributors in their organization. They then use this knowledge to position each contributor to succeed, while the group, as a whole, reaches its goal.
Myth #5: Leaders are extroverts. Leaders aren’t all extroverts. There are actually highly successful leaders who are introverts. On the project I’ve been working on this past year, we collaborated to create a product. As we were getting ready to market and share the finished product, we began seeking endorsements for it. Who secured the first two endorsements? A self-proclaimed introvert, who was more comfortable building her network one relationship at a time. Due to the strength of those personal connections, she was able to procure wonderful endorsements for our product within a very short period of time.
Myth #6: Leaders command a following. When this project first began, we anticipated starting work in the spring of 2011. However, we didn’t actually get started until early summer. People who had wanted to participate in the project no longer had time available for it because of the shift in schedule. Real leaders recognize that people aren’t waiting eagerly for their next command. There are times when project plans conflict with other events, and key people you had planned on participating will not be able to, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Myth #7: Followers exist to support a leader. The best form of leadership is servant leadership. The accomplishments of a team of inspired contributors will always outstrip the accomplishments of teams that are not personally invested in either the goal or their commitment to a leader. When leaders focus on serving the members of their team, treating them as individuals rather than a group, relationships form that are based on loyalty, trust, and respect. It’s those relationships that inspire people to “go the extra mile” when a project gets tough because their heart is invested in it, not just their head.
Myth #8: Leaders are chosen by other people. The common perception is that leaders are only leaders because other people chose them. But in fact, leaders have to first acknowledge the desire to lead. If you don’t put yourself out there as a prospective leader, people just aren’t going to appoint you as one. Once you step out and offer yourself, people will confirm or deny your leadership. People don’t choose leaders. They acknowledge them.
So, what does happen when you get 21 leaders together to work on a project? Relationships are built. A community forms. Support and encouragement overflows. Milestones are celebrated together. Myths are dispelled. Ultimately, we are each better for it, both personally and professionally.