This isn’t my first time being considered a non-essential employee.
I’ve worked with some great leaders during my tours of duty at a provincial association, hospital, steelmaker, college and university.
These all-star leaders didn’t want or honestly need much public relations help. It was the less-than-stellar leaders who kept us PR pros busy as an essential service.
The best leaders had zero interest in being the star of the show. If somehow pushed and cajoled into the spotlight, they’d sing the praises of the people they served. It was never about them and always about the mission.
There was also little point in telling employees they had a mission-driven leader at the helm. They already knew this to be true. Many had been on the receiving end of the leader’s passion for unlocking potential and bringing out the best in people.
“Leadership, at its core, isn’t about you,” say Harvard Business professor Frances Frei and Leadership Consortium executive founder Anne Morriss. “It’s about how effective you are at unleashing other people. Full stop. That’s it. That’s the secret.”
So how can leaders know if the secret’s still a mystery and they’re still labouring on the false assumption that it’s all about them? Frei and Morriss list 10 warning signs in their book Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You:
- What other people experience rarely occurs to you. “If you find yourself focused primarily on your own experience, then you’re still a healthy distance from the emotional Launchpad of leadership.”
- You don’t ask very many questions.
- The most interesting thing about other people is what they think of you. “If you can’t sustain genuine interest in the ideas of other people, including those ideas that have nothing to do with you, then you haven’t yet earned the right to lead.”
- You’re constantly updating a catalogue of your own weaknesses, limitations and imperfections. “A loud inner critic can be a major distraction from the practice of leadership.”
- Other people’s abilities bum you out. “When you’re in an effective leadership state, the strengths and potential of the people around you become your greatest assets.”
- You’re constantly in crisis.
- You’re pessimistic about the future. “Leadership is built on the assumption that tomorrow can be better than today.”
- Reality has become tedious. “It’s a red flag if it’s been awhile since you’ve felt a sense of wonder at the unlimited possibilities around you.
- Apathy and powerlessness are dominant emotions.
- You’re the star of your own show. “Those of us hungry for leadership will eventually change the channel.”
Frie and Morriss showcase strategies for chipping away at this list and making the pivot to becoming a more empowering and effective leader. You can start by becoming an OPA, or ambassador of other people’s awesomeness.
“Choose someone in whom you see some kind of talent, however big or small, and find a genuine way to let them know that you’ve noticed,” say Frie and Morriss. “You see what they’re capable of today and – this is for leadership bonus points – you see where this gift might take them tomorrow if they decide to share it more often. Start with a person close to you and work outward from there.”
Serving as an ambassador of other people’s awesomeness accomplishes two things. You’ll start to adopt a much-needed external leadership orientation and you’ll spread some unexpected joy at a time when we could all use an extra-strength dose.
Adopt this daily habit during the pandemic and you’ll start making yourself essential as a leader.
Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.