Leadership is one of those words that people throw around a lot but I’m not sure most people stop to actually think about what it means. Maybe it’s just me … my initial response, if you were to ask me to define “leadership”, might have simply been “the person in charge”. While technically accurate, it doesn’t really get to the heart of the what it means to “be” a leader and be part of leadership.
I’ve been thinking about what leadership means quite a bit in the past few weeks because I am one of the speakers scheduled to present on the topic at the biennial AIA Illinois Leadership Institute – a day-long event focused on empowerment training as part of a major call for civic engagement between architects and Illinois communities. The cost of the event is shared equally between AIA Illinois and the chapters, rather than the individual attendees who are invited to attend based on a nomination and applicant review process.
I will admit that when I was initially asked to present, my response was “sure!” but it was only a little while later that I started thinking “why do they me to talk about leadership?” as I don’t really consider myself a leader. (also, I have this thing where I say ‘yes’ a lot) Since I’m a fairly straightforward sort of person, I sent an email off to the people who invited me that basically asked the question … “Exactly why do you want me to participate?” The response I received helped me think that at least they thought about why they wanted me. In fact, they gave me a list of three things that they believe I bring to the table that these emerging leaders need to hear:
- Make time for activities outside of work (I think I do some of that…)
- The value and importance of talking to non-architects (I do a lot of that…)
- Keeping design at the center of it all. (Well, two out of three ain’t bad…)
Okay, seems straight-forward enough.
This leadership program is taking place on August 1st – which is only two weeks away – and while I’ve been thinking about this since May, it wasn’t until this weekend that I sat down and really started to figure out what my message on leadership will cover. Rather than pretend to be something I’m not, I am going to play to my strengths – but what exactly are those? I know what I think I’m good at, but what do the people I work with think of me? When I told my partner that some folks wanted me to talk about what it means to be a leader … he kind of tilted his head to one side and made a puzzled-looking face.
A few years ago (at my previous job) we had a company retreat and one of the activities we went through included everyone anonymously critiquing their fellow employees. Last night I dug that list out and here is what my co-workers had to say about me:
- Good with clients and contractors
- thinks well on his feet, smart
- knows everything
- good sense of humor
- good teacher
- high visibility in architectural community
- always takes the time to explain the answers and lets us think about the solutions for ourselves
- patient teacher
- handles difficult situations well
- very good with clients
- can talk his way through anything
- intelligent, organized, motivated and creative
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Sorry, about that, my head got so big for a moment that I couldn’t support it and it hit my keyboard.
Not sure you could ask for a better list but let’s be honest – those coworkers were my friends and I probably have them all fooled. I’m still not convinced that I have any business talking to emerging leaders about being a leader. I’m not sure that I even know what it means to be a leader so I did what most people would do … I dusted off some leadership books, and then I dug out some quotes on “Leadership” from people who should actually have something worth paying attention to. While I have been collecting these for a long time, here are a few of my favorites:
If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.
John Quincy Adams
If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.
Be careful the environment you choose for it will shape you; be careful the friends you choose for you will become like them.
W. Clement Stone
Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.
Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Good leadership consists of showing average people how to do the work of superior people.
John D. Rockefeller
If you want a quality, act as if you already have it.
No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit for doing it.
Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.
Only the guy who isn’t rowing has time to rock the boat.
People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.
John C. Maxwell
The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.
When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.
The employer generally gets the employees he deserves.
J. Paul Getty
Obstacles are things a person sees when he takes his eyes off the goal.
E. Joseph Cosmic
I have always supported measures and principles and not men.
What helps people, helps business.
You don’t lead by hitting people over the head – that’s assault, not leadership.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.
John F. Kennedy
Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand.
John C. Maxwell
Leadership is not something you do to people, but something you do with people.
Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.
The nation will find it very hard to look up to the leaders who are keeping their ears to the ground.
A great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position.
A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.
Leaders think and talk about the solutions. Followers think and talk about the problems.
Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.
Great leaders are not defined by the absence of weakness, but rather by the presence of clear strengths.
In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.
Leadership does not always wear the harness of compromise.
No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.
There are three essentials to leadership: humility, clarity and courage.
The supreme quality of leadership is integrity.
So here I sit, in my well-worn spot on the couch in my living room, surrounded by papers, notes, books and my computer, putting together a presentation on leadership. In the end, I know I will abandon all my indecision and simply go with my gut on what I think I should be doing. I suppose that being qualified to speak on leadership is not for me to determine. Even though my research has found loads of examples of people telling others how to become better leaders, the truth seems to be that leadership is thrust upon those who, through strength of conviction and moral character, lead through personal example. Leadership is a label earned with character and behavior, and ultimately bestowed by others.
If you are interested, here is my reading list on ‘Leadership’
‘The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You‘ by John C. Maxwell
‘Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Others to Take Action‘ by Simon Sinek
‘The Supreme Commander: The War Years of Dwight D. Eisenhower‘ by Stephen Ambrose
‘It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership‘ by Colin Powell