Organizations rise and fall with leadership. Negative managers with a strong micro-management leadership style destroy cultures, employee engagement, and morale. The very best leaders insert positive energy into their company and lead from the value of serving others. These leaders realize that leadership is not a title. They understand that leadership is about service, not power, and are focused on developing and empowering their team members to reach their full potential. They know that both “formal” and “informal” leaders exist in every organization, and sometimes the informal leaders have greater influence than many leaders or managers who have a title.
These leaders understand the importance of creating a culture of leadership by investing in leadership development and empowering leaders very early in their career. They recognize there are different forms of leadership and any role within the organization can be called to lead through different functions of their job.
The Impact of “Informal” Leaders
Take a teacher for example. While a kindergarten teacher has no formal leadership position within the hierarchy of a school district, the teacher leads in many different ways. She leads her students and her student’s parents. She is creative and innovative in creating lesson plans that lay the groundwork for the lifelong success of her students. She is always looking for new strategies to enhance her impact. She motivates and inspires her students. She leads. But beyond this leadership, she is an informal leader within the district, among her peers, and yes, with her principal and even superintendent. Depending on her leadership skills, she can have a positive or negative impact on the culture and morale of the school, and she can be the difference between the success and failure of current strategies and new initiatives. To fully understand this, let’s take a deeper dive into the true meaning of leadership.
Leadership is simply influence. Leadership is the ability to influence another person’s actions and beliefs in a specific direction for a common good. How do we get this influence? Influence in founded in relationships and at the very core of any relationship is trust. You cannot have a relationship without trust. Put more directly, trust builds relationships, relationships build influence, and influence is leadership.
Whether in a school district, a factory, a hospital, or a police department, the equation for leadership is the same and in each of these organizations there are formal and informal leaders. Recognizing and understanding this is essential for the success of any front-line supervisor, middle manager, or CEO. This is why it is important to create a culture of leadership.
Creating “Owners”, Empowering “Champions”
Let’s take a step back. When people join your team and serve on the frontlines of your team, they are often very self-focused. In most cases, they are more concerned about how things impact them than the organization. How does a specific decision impact the hours they work, the area of the building they work in, who they work with, the records management system they use, and the duties they perform? This team member is coming to work to do a job and earn a salary to support themselves and their family. Many times, they do not truly understand the impact of their work on the company and quite often they are not engaged and do not care. This team member is very susceptible to negativity and the cancers within your organization. They are also equally as influenced by the true leaders, formal and informal.
But what happens when we turn the current professional development formula that exists across most organizations on its head? Instead of waiting for a person to receive a promotion and then giving leadership training, what about if we introduced them to leadership and a leadership mindset early in their career through coaching, mentoring, and training? You might be scratching your head and wondering why I would recommend this. Here is why.
Leaders understand that leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge. The very best leaders understand their job is to serve others and always make decisions that are in the best interest of others, and ultimately the mission of the organization. Leaders put themselves second and everyone else first. This is an intentional mindset…service, service, service.
So, if we create a leadership mindset in our team members very early in their career, we will begin to shift their focus from “me” to “we.” We will foster a positive, service mindset and intentionally create an awareness about how their actions impact the success of the team. In cultures where great leadership exists, this process begins by aligning the mission and purpose of your team member to the mission and purpose of the company. An investment in leadership coaching, mentoring, and training creates a sense of psychological safety and tells her that she is important, she matters, and she belongs. The team member feels empowered and this creates an optimum environment for innovation and creativity. The team member becomes an “owner” and now carries out her duties to the best of her ability because it is important to her, not just because she is expected to do it or it is important to someone else. She is no longer coming to work to do a “job”. She has a career where she is making an “impact.” She owns it, and because of that, she is willing to give passionate, discretionary effort that will allow her to reach her full potential and the organization to achieve excellence. She becomes a champion for your team.
Now, when this kindergarten teacher, police officer, nurse, or factory worker is faced with change or adversity, instead of just worrying about how it impacts her, she looks at the situation through the lenses of a leader. She is open minded, approaches the challenge or change from a positive mindset, and seeks to understand the true impact on the company. Now when she is in the break room and people are complaining about the new initiative, the horrible boss, or how bad it is to work at the company, your informal leader, leads. They insert positivity into the situation. They provide a different perspective and they open the minds of others to see the situation for what it really is. And when you have created a culture of leadership, there just won’t be one informal leader making this culture impact, there will be several. Instead of the negative team member spreading his venom, this negativity is cut off at the knees and the course of the culture sabotage is stopped in its tracks. This is why it is important to develop and create leaders throughout the organization from very early on in a person’s career. This service mindset begins to set the foundation for high levels of employee engagement that create positive cultures and high performing teams.