Leadership. It’s one of the most misunderstood words in the professional world. So often, we have the idea that leadership is only for those people who are managers, directors, or bosses. There is a common perception that leadership isn’t important unless you are in a formal position with a title and authority over other people. But leadership isn’t just for those people, although it’s important for those in the formal role of a leader. Leadership is for everyone because we are all leaders.
I didn’t always understand that. There was a time in my life where I couldn’t wait to be the boss so I could be the leader. I didn’t realize that I was already a leader, even though I didn’t have a title that said “Boss.” When I finally got the title, it didn’t make me a better leader.
In 2007, I had just been promoted to office manager at a busy physician practice. I had worked there for several years, and the previous two office managers had been terminated, which should have told me something about the job I was getting into. I immediately wanted to make some changes around the office, including rearranging some things at the front desk to improve efficiency, and to help solve the bottleneck of patients checking in at the front desk. I failed, however, to initially get buy-in from everyone involved in the process, thinking that since I was the boss, I could simply make a command decision.
It didn’t work. After only one morning of working with the new check-in process, one of the physicians flatly refused to continue. It started out great. Those working the front desk loved it because it made their job so much faster. However, one of the physicians said changing the check-in process caused him to get behind in seeing patients because he couldn’t tell if there was a backlog at the front desk. He demanded that we return to the old way of doing things, and so we did. This was the first of many learning opportunities in my job there as I “failed forward” in developing my leadership skills. I learned a painful, but very valuable, lesson about developing influence with my peers. I also learned about getting buy-in before making decisions that affect others.
In the words of John C. Maxwell, “Leadership is Influence.” And, we all want to influence someone. Spouses, children, bosses, parents, friends, co-workers, the clerk ringing up your groceries, and in fact almost anyone we meet, are people we live with, work with, play with, do business with, and whom we want to influence. If we influence them positively, we are good leaders. If we influence them negatively, we are poor leaders. If we don’t influence them much, we are ineffective leaders.
Development of our leadership skills will help us to become more effective in everything else. Better leadership skills will allow you to be more effective as a parent, a spouse, a friend, a boss, a manager, a follower, or any other “hat” you are wearing. Because leadership skills are the skills we need to influence people.
We all want and need influential skills. However, it’s not enough to simply want leadership skills. They must be developed over time with intentional creation of habits that help us build influence. We should study leadership with as much, or perhaps more, emphasis as we put on learning to do the technical component of any role. Our leadership skills, or the lack thereof, will determine whether the people around us are the greatest asset or the biggest challenge.
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