Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Leadership: A Different Perspective

Leadership: A Different Perspective
By Randall D. Weis

I can remember as a child growing up people referring to “born leaders,” usually referring to a person’s ancestry and that somehow leadership was in a person’s DNA. Often the examples of leadership that I saw were the obvious ones: a military leader, a government official, Gandhi, etc. But leaders are around us every day in every form, and most leaders go unnoticed in life, and many times those leaders evolve and were not “mode” or formed by others. They become leaders by challenging the status quo, as was the case with Martin Luther King, Jr.

In my case, I had great mentors growing up with my father and grandfather, who were known for speaking their minds and not following the status quo. Both were quick to let their opinions be known and always listened to the points of view of others, never forcing their opinions on others but letting others rethink their stated positions. Both were able to argue their points of view with their peer groups and were often seen as a voice of reason, and from that they emerged as leaders both in the family and outside the family.

I remember the first time I really had a change to be a leader, and this example has followed me throughout my career. After getting my degree in logistics, I wanted to join a professional organization of logistics graduates, and such a group existed on a national level called Delta Nu Alpha. In my Midwest community, there was no local chapter of Delta Nu Alpha, so I connected with about a dozen working logistics professionals and invited them to lunch at the cafeteria at my workplace. At that point, since I was the force behind the idea, I prepared an agenda, had some information from the headquarters of Delta Nu Alpha, and ran the meeting. The group decided that we should have a chapter, and in order to get recognized by the national organization, we needed a board of directors, etc., so we held a quick election and I was asked to be the founding president. At the time I was 23—by far, the youngest of the group—but was recognized for seeing a need, organizing others, and bringing things to a vote as to move forward or not. This was my first stage of understanding what leaders do. Today, these same simple principles have formed who I am in every day life.

My life experience as a leader has five foundational items that always reappear in matters where leadership is required. These five pillars are:

1.     The urge to explore new territory.
2.     The ability to influence.
3.     Challenge the status quo.
4.     Courage to speak out.

5.     Desire to differentiate.

The urge to explore

The urge to explore is what stops most from leading. If you don’t explore, you can’t make a mistake in life. More valuable information comes from the mistakes we make oftentimes than from the successes we have. The only people I have met in life who never make mistakes are those who never take a chance, never explore the unknown, and remain in that safe spot where they can’t be criticized. Leaders understand how failure can provide great learning, just like success does.

The ability to influence

The ability to influence, the second pillar, can come from many areas and is perhaps the pillar with the greatest mystique. Dale Carnegie wrote the bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People in 1937 and introduced to modern management at that time some simple principles regarding how to influence people. Those principles start with the concept that you have to engage others and win their confidence (friendship) to be able to influence others. Politicians have long understood the importance of influence, as it may be the key determinant as to who gets elected in the end and who does not. The person with the greatest influence is the one who wins in an election. You cannot overlook the importance of how much engaging with others drives your ability to influence.

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