Jim Kerr has just written his fifth book. You may recognize the name from his weekly column in Inc. or any of his previous books. Jim has been an executive coach and consultant for nearly 30 years. Currently, he is the global chair of Culture Transformation at the management consulting and search firm N2Growth. His latest book, It’s Good To Be King: A Leadership Fable for Everyday Leaders, is written in a fun and easy-to-access parable form that enables the reader to quickly embrace his leadership takeaways.
This lighthearted story presents sound leadership fundamentals and reinforces the notion that, regardless of the circumstances, we can all learn to become even more exceptional at leading others.
I spoke with Jim recently about his new book.
“Leaders make things possible. Exceptional leaders make them inevitable.” -Lance Morrow
This book is much different from the others that you have written. In fact, some may even consider it a bedtime story. Why did you choose a fable format to house the leadership advice that you offer throughout the book?
There are two reasons that underpin this choice of format. First, I want the book to be consumed quickly and easily. There are far too many leadership titles available that offer dry and uninspired content, which make them difficult to get through and enjoy. Second, I want this book to be read and appreciated by all kinds of people, not just those who manage others in a business setting.
Sure, business professionals of all types – from the harried C-suite executive, who is looking for a quick “leadership read” to the Gen Y new hire who is eager to gain useful insight for career advancement – will find great value in the book. But I would like people who simply aspire to become better leaders in their everyday lives to want to read this book.
People like you and me who lead others in their communities, places of worship or volunteer organizations should pick up this book and find valuable insights that can help them become better leaders.
Leadership is not a position. It’s not a title. It’s not a job. Leaders are people who make an impact, influencing others to action.
That’s why I was intrigued to read a new book by Angie Morgan, Courtney Lynch, and Sean Lynch. Spark: How to Lead Yourself and Others to Greater Success recognizes that leaders are found almost anywhere in the organization. I recently spoke to Sean about their new book. He is a senior consultant at Lead Star and specializes in designing and delivering leadership programming. He holds a BA from Yale University and served as a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force.
“A leader is someone who influences outcomes and inspires others.”
A Spark is someone who doesn’t just accept what is given to them. Sparks realize that they can do things differently to create the change they’d like to see. Sparks understand that they have both the ability to influence and inspire, and they look to influence and inspire those around them. Sparks create their own opportunities and are identified by their actions, commitment, and will, not by a job title. Sparks choose to lead.
“Credibility is the foundation of your leadership style.”
At times, we place leaders on a pedestal. We think they are larger than life or different from us. But leaders are people. We have relationships with people, and trust is a foundational component of all relationships.
We can all be better leaders in the various roles we fill. Leaders influence and inspire others to work together toward a common goal. In order to be influenced and inspired, we must trust the leader’s competency, character, and intentions.
“Leaders influence and inspire others to work together toward a common goal.” -Sean Lynch
Character and credibility are two keys to creating trust.
Character is important because, before we can lead others, we must lead ourselves. We must get in touch with our most deeply held values and intentionally act in accordance with those values. If we talk about work-life balance, and then regularly call co-workers after hours and email them on weekends, others will see that our actions are at odds with what we say we value. People will question who we are, how we might act in the future, or how we might act under pressure. They will lose trust in us.
Determine your most closely held values and what matters most. Honestly assess where you have compromised your values, and identify ways to lead more consistently with your values.
“Character and credibility are two keys to creating trust.” -Sean Lynch
You can’t force people to trust you. You have to earn trust in ways that are meaningful to others. Credible performance builds trust. Here are some examples.
Start by understanding and meeting the standards of others. We usually strive to meet standards that we think are important. Yet, every time we interact with others, we are being judged. And the standards others judge us against may be very different from our own standards. If timeliness is important in your organization and you are constantly late for meetings, you are not meeting the standards of others and demonstrating credible performance.
Maintain a narrow “Say-Do” gap. Keep the difference between what you say you’re going to do (or what you are supposed to do) and what you actually do as narrow as possible. Be consistent. When you promise the report by Thursday, do you follow through? Or do you let it slide and hope no one will notice?
Clearly communicate intent and expectations and ensure people understand. Often we assume that people know what they are supposed to do. Don’t assume. Communicate what to do along with expectations and intentions. Bring clarity and focus by constantly, continuously communicating expectations and intent. Ensure everyone is on the same page so that people can act in ways that are consistent with intent even when you’re not around.
Finally, hold people accountable to those clearly communicated and well understood standards, intent, and expectations. Holding others accountable isn’t personal. With clear, well-communicated standards, intent, and expectations, holding people accountable is merely comparing their performance to the standard, intent, or expectation.
You have a personal leadership identity that has the potential to influence and motivate others. Achieving results and driving others to a common vision are within your reach when you focus on that uniqueness.
What you need is to think about your differentiators.
One of the reasons I study leaders and various leadership styles is because each of us can learn something from the greats while moving toward our own uniqueness.
Danielle Harlan, PhD is the Founder & CEO of the Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential. She completed her doctorate at Stanford University and has taught courses at both Stanford Graduate School of Business and U.C. Berkeley Extension’s Corporate and Professional Development program.
I recently asked her about her new research, focusing specifically on her concepts of a personal leadership identity.
“Each of us possesses the innate potential to make a meaningful impact in the world.” –Danielle Harlan
Personal Leadership Identity (PLI) is the unique combination of qualities and talents that make you unique and distinctive as an individual and that you can easily and naturally draw upon in order to enhance your leadership effectiveness.
The example that I share in The New Alpha is about a new manager who struggled as a “stern and commanding” leader (which matched the “image” that he had in his mind of how good leaders should act) but had a breakthrough when he identified his PLI, which was actually the total opposite of this. As soon as he found his “real” self, his leadership effectiveness increased dramatically.
The big idea here is that many of us have this “cookie cutter” image of the “type” of person who makes a good leader, but the reality is that each of us is at our most powerful, and our most impactful, when we allow the best aspects of who we are naturally to guide our leadership “style.”
Knowing your PLI is also really helpful in terms of creating a vision and plan for our lives—based on who we actually are, rather than who we think we should be.
“Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself.” -Warren Bennis
How can you use it to determine whether you’re in the right role and pursuing the right vision?
At its best, your career should be a professional manifestation of your Personal Leadership Identity…if there’s general alignment between your PLI and what you’re doing or where you’re headed, then you’re in the right role and pursuing the right vision. If not, then it might be time to think about how to change or adapt your role to better suit your PLI, or to make a career pivot.
“Greater than the tread of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come.” –Victor Hugo
This is, of course, much easier said than done, and many of us put off the hard work of aligning our life and career to our Personal Leadership Identity because it’s a big task and we’re busy. However, not addressing this disconnect only results in deep misalignment and unhappiness in the long run. In these cases, instead of work being an opportunity to pursue what gives us a sense of meaning and purpose, it becomes a chore that we must do in order to survive, pay our rent or mortgage, etc.
“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” -Eleanor Roosevelt
What’s the best way to define your Personal Leadership Identity?
Chapter 6 in The New Alpha book spells out a step-by-step processing for doing this, but the gist is that our Personal Leadership Identity doesn’t usually come to us out of thin air; rather we uncover it by reflecting on our life and experiences and by identifying the values, strengths, skills, passions, and ideal conditions that have facilitated our best and most enjoyable successes.
For example, if you ask me what qualities I bring to the table as a leader, I might say that I’m intelligent, empathetic, and gritty. However, if you ask me to reflect on my best successes as a human being—those where I achieved something AND enjoyed doing it, and then asked me to analyze these accomplishments in terms of what they tell me about the aspects of my personality that I could draw upon in order to be a good leader, I might find intelligence, empathy, and grit in there—but I might find other more unexpected qualities too—like love, curiosity, and a sense of humor.
This retrospective and holistic approach often yields more interesting aspects of our PLI than we might come up with by simply “naming” our best qualities or relying on other people to tell us what we’re good at.
“By working to become the best version of ourselves, we develop the foundation competencies that are necessary to effectively lead others.”-Danielle Harlan
When you get a new boss, it’s important to quickly learn his or her leadership style. When you are the new boss, it’s important for your team to understand your leadership style. It’s also important that you know each member of the team and what their strengths are and how their leadership style complements your own.
“Leadership is the capacity to turn vision into reality.” –Warren Bennis
Every year, I read the biographies of great leaders. I have fun categorizing them and guessing their preferred style. I also write down the characteristics I admire in each person as a way to emphasize to my subconscious what I would like to emulate.
As you would expect, each style has pros and cons. I remember taking this test and finding one leader micromanaging every last detail. She took charge and it was her way, period. There was no room for discussion. “That’s someone I could never work for,” I remember thinking. But, when a crisis hit, guess who we turned to? We knew that she would deliver results, fast. There wasn’t time for relationship-building. We needed someone who could move the needle, fast.
That’s when I realized that no one style is perfect. Each of us has skills and styles that are needed for just the right situation.
Matching that situation to our skill is a challenge, but when it happens, everyone sees maximum performance.
When I ran across the infographic below, I thought it was a solid overview of various leadership styles and the pros and cons of each.
What’s your preferred style?
“Leadership is defined by results, not attributes.” –Peter Drucker