Why leading a few is harder than leading many

When people think about leadership, very often they envision a large group of people. Getting up the career ladder results in many people in their department – corresponding displayed in the income. But is this the place to learn leadership?

From a personal perspective, I learned the most of my leaders when I have been one-on-one with them or in a small group. In these moments I was able to connect to them – and sense what drives them. They shared their heart more openly and I could understand their reasoning and decisions. Yet, they were still my leaders and I was aware of the hierarchy involved.

Same is true for my teams today. In a smaller setting, no one can hide. Not even the leader. There is this ‘scary’ part in there where one is getting vulnerable. As a leader, it can feel very shaky when admitting weaknesses. It needs a lot of trust in a team to speak your mind openly. But if you manage to create that space, trust grows, people start blooming and the learning curve gets steep. These environments are the base for open honest feedback – be it wholeheartedly praise or words for growth.

Creating that team environment needs time and work. As a leader, you are responsible for the team spirit. You decide how much you share and in what tone you set out meetings. Generally, people mirror your behaviour. Give them time to build trust and see you consistent behaviour. Once they have seen you being authentic and trustworthy even under pressure, they will open up and bring in their share, too.

To give you an example: I always start my meetings in a good mood. Smiling and smalltalk is setting the tone – even in stressful seasons. Attendees learn quickly that ‘good mood’ is to be expected and soon after a series of meetings, they come in with the same smile. Once that point is reached, I don’t have to give much energy anymore, because the tone is up and everyone enjoys that style of a meeting. But it still requires consistency and effort by me to keep going and lead in the way I want to be mirrored.

Wanna keep your job?

Interestingly, there are some people who will always tell you how much they have to do, how stressful their job is and when coming to complaining about colleagues and bosses the day doesn’t have enough hours to contain their words. It seems, their whole life is awful and punished by the few people around them. Often I am wondering, whether they are aware that one part of their misery is the constant echo of their stressful workday in their private lives!?

But aside from crashing the atmosphere at home, most likely their job isn’t that bad after all – at least they haven’t changed positions or applied for a new role. Most likely, a huge part of their complain is letting everyone know how important and unexchangeable they are in their position. Which opens room for a change of perspective: how does their boss and colleagues see that person? Does he/she contribute to the team success? What is the effect of the complain of that person towards the team mates?

Even the brightest mind and the deepest content of a colleague is overruled by a bad attitude. Someone complaining much – regardless the topic – stresses the team more than the actual work will contribute. People will see and learn from that behaviour – managing around colleagues whose attitude is counterproductive. In turn, when it comes to team size reduction – these people won’t have anyone speaking up for their important contribution to the team success despite their story of having so much stress and hence, being so important.

So, if you want to be part of the crew kept on board, think of this: your teammates and leads need you to do your job. They need you to take responsibility for your tasks so that they can trust you and your results. Very often you can decide what ‘your job’ involves. One major part is fixing problems. Often these problems won’t be part of your initial job description. But if you are known for a mindset that thinks of solutions instead of complain, your teammates and leads will love to work with you and will do anything, to keep you in the team.

Am I a leader?

Leadership starts with self-leadership.

Being known for values, having a vision for one’s life, being self-confident and caring about others are a good foundation to build on.

A leader is someone whom people follow.

Many years ago I heard this statement in a leadership coaching. And it hit me. I was troubled. If this was true, it wasn’t so much about me and my qualifications but rather about other people to see something in me worthy to be copied and followed.

It put me to thinking. Whom do I follow? And why?

Leader display values

People I follow have clear values and they express their values in every moment – especially when it is getting tough.

Lets take honesty. Everyone can be honest when it doesn’t cost anything – but what about being honest when it actually costs you time/money/privileges and no one would notice if you lied!?

What about friendliness and value people. Monday, 10 o’clock in the morning, sunny skies and clients meeting – easy to smile and be friendly. But what happens on Wednesday night, damn tired and stressed out!? How do you act towards your team after an exhausting day!?

Leaders have a vision for their own life/career

Leaders can communicate effectively what their vision is. They know why they are doing their job, share their rationale for their decisions and inspire others with their life.

Leaders are fun to be with

Usually, it so much fun to be with them. From what I have been seeing in people around me, leaders tend to like themselves. They are comfortable who they are. They are aware of their strengths, weaknesses, flaws and genius ideas. And this self confidence creates an atmosphere that is just compelling.

Leaders see the life/career of their followers

It’s not the most important part but if a leader wants to win my heart, he/she must see my stake in the whole endeavor as well. If this part isn’t given, the person might be a strong inspiration for me – but not a leader I am following.

Coming back to the question of the beginning: How can I determine whether I am leader? First of all you probably have followers that somehow let you know that you display certain trademarks that identify you as a leader.

If you are yet too young to have people following you or you are not sure whether there are people seeing leadership potential within you, start working on the named characteristics.

Start by answering these questions for yourself: Which values do you live? Which value could be added? How would you know that you have lived the value? Do you have a vision for your job? Why are you doing what you are doing? Do you like yourself? And last but not least: in whom do you see leadership potential that you can help to unfold?

Putting values on laptop screens is bullshit

Let’s take the challenge to define your very own set of values and how you want to act upon them. Then find a company you want to influence. And if this company writes the values on screens, be the one example that is living the words.

„Putting values on laptop screens is bullshit“, my colleague explodes. We are in the middle of a heated discussion whether a company should communicate its values or not. While he is convinced that managers do “business as usual” without considering values at all – and hence, values don’t need to be listed – , I am arguing that the transparency about values is needed in order to get into this valuable conversations. Especially when there is a discrepancy between words and action.

I guess, you have been part in such a discussion as well – or at least bystander. Let me share some thoughts with you.

Leaders need to act first

I am convinced that leaders need to take the first step. They are the ones forming and building the culture for the whole team. Therefore, if you are a leader already, be aware that you are an example. Accept it.

I have heard many bosses say that they don’t consider their behavior and opinion as important – but this is a wrong perception. As a boss – even if you haven’t chosen that position by yourself – you are watched by your team. And they will check on your values. If you model a law-and-order-mentality, they will use it on their subordinates. If it’s fine in your team to talk behind people’s backs, this behavior will spread. If you are leading by sarcasm, don’t be surprised if your team doesn’t take you seriously.

In turn, I have seen positive values spread as well. Integrity, honesty and appreciation are forceful values that will lead your team to success and prosperity.

Since we are all human beings, we will make mistakes. We are not perfect. And we don’t have to be. If you have failed, admit it. Be open and ask for forgiveness when needed. This will also model your team in a positive way.

Follow your leader

If your leaders act upon their values, follow them. Copy their behavior and see if it works for you as well. By doing so, you are modeled and you will find your own emphasizes and core principles.

Also get into discussion with them and your team mates. What should be part of your culture and what can be adjusted? Use your time as a team mate as a “leader-in-the-making”-phase and define gradually what should be part of your personal value card.

Act as a leader – even when your boss doesn’t

“My boss isn’t a good role model”, is an argument I love to discuss about. Let me ask you this: “Do you believe, that you are (or: will be) a leader?”

Do you believe, that you are (or: will be) a leader?

If so, find your own values and act upon them. You can model a culture around you even if no one else does. This is the very core of a leader: good self-leadership. And it is independent from your current position in the company. You have to find your own way to express your values.

Getting back to the argument with the colleague about putting values on screens. We found common ground in the inner longing for alignment of words and action. And this includes our very own behavior. Instead of complaining about other not following certain values, let us be the ones led by inner principles.

Therefore, let’s take the challenge to define your very own set of values and how you want to act upon them. Then find a company you want to influence. And if this company writes the values on screens, be the one example that is living the words.