By Qin Tang, Minnesota Chapter, Transportation Division
In the last few years, I have learned a great deal about what makes a great leader through intensive reading on leadership, attending workshops, interviewing leaders and witnessing a true leader in action. That leader is – Tom Sorel, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, where I serve as a librarian. I would like to share a few things I have learned.
Let’s start with the basics of what leadership is about.
In Leadership Challenge, authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner say leadership is not about position or title, power or authority, status or wealth, being a CEO, president or a hero. Leadership is about relationships. It is a relationship between those who aspire to lead and those who choose to follow. It’s about character and what you do.
The fact is, everyone can be a leader. You are a leader in some way even if you don’t hold an official title in the organization. You are the most important leader in your organization, in your family and your life. Learning leadership skills is everyone’s business. Leadership opportunities are everywhere.
To be a better leader and a future ready leader, we need to move away from the traditional leadership styles that are individual-centered and to a more relationally oriented style – transformational leadership, democratic leadership, servant leadership and collaborative leadership.
This new approach to leadership means rather than having a hero who tells us what to do, we need a servant who inspires us, empowers us and helps us do the work ourselves. Leadership is shifted from “power over” to “power with.”
A true leader is a transformational leader, not a transactional manager. A transformational leader helps his or her followers become self-empowered leaders and change agents. Transformational leaders can articulate vision and values clearly so their followers, the new self-empowered leaders, know where to go and what to do.
In The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, author John Maxwell says: “To lead tomorrow, learn today. Leadership doesn’t develop in a day. It takes a lifetime.”
Starting today, cultivate the following characteristics of great leaders:
- Characters – “Leadership is character in action.” – James Hunter
- Competence – Your emotional intelligence is as important as your IQ, if not more important. Hire people who are competent and smarter than you. “Competence is doing the right thing, the right way at the right time.” -Sheila Murray Bethel
- Collaboration – Seek to forge alliances both inside and outside of the organization. “Including colleagues and constituents in decision-making and problem solving strengthens organizations and builds participants’ commitment.” – David D. Chrislip
- Compassion – Create a caring, respectful, people-centered culture within your organization. “Take care of your people and they will take care of your business, not just because they have to, but because they want to.” – Lee Cockerell
- Connection – Connect with yourself, connect with others personally, and connect to the world. Forging the bond between people can strengthen teamwork. “Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand.” – John Maxwell
- Continued learning – All great leaders are lifelong learners.
- Empowerment – “Only secure leaders give power to others. Leading well is not about enriching yourself, it’s about empowering others. Believe in people and give your power away.” - John Maxwell
- Humility –Have a humble spirit. Admit mistakes and learn from them. To be the best leader is to be the best servant. Choose service to others over self-interest.
- Humor and fun – Don’t take yourself too seriously. Have a sense of humor. Laugh at yourself so others will laugh with you. Celebrate and make work fun.
- Inspiring and motivational – “Leaders are to influence people and inspire people to act.” – James Hunter
- Mentoring and legacy – “When you invest in others, you gain the opportunity to create a legacy that will outlive you. The best leaders lead today with tomorrow in mind by making sure they invest in leaders who will carry their legacy forward.” – John Maxwell
- Openness and transparency – Openness in mind, heart, policies and dealings encourages curiosity, creativity and innovation.
- Trust – Character and competence are the foundations of trust; trust is the foundation of leadership. When you believe in people, they will believe in themselves and rise to greatness.
- Vision, purpose and values – “Leadership is getting people to want to do what you want them to do because they share your purpose, vision and values.” – Kevin Freiberg
Along the leadership development journey and in your practice as a leader, pay attention to the following pitfalls:
- Having tunnel vision
- Demanding perfection
- Having low self-esteem and confidence
- Having emotional insecurity and immaturity
- Making decisions based on emotions
- Acting as a roadblock between upper managers and employees
- Acting differently in front of their superiors and subordinates
- Blaming others for failures and taking credit for others’ successes
- Making assumptions without fact-checking
- Reacting negatively to criticism.
- Showing favoritism
- Being rules-oriented rather than people-oriented
Learning about leadership skills from reading and attending classes is important; learning from other leaders is equally as important. Both good and bad examples can teach us valuable lessons.
But what’s even more important in this process is application and practice. We become better leaders by applying our learning, knowledge and experience to our everyday lives. To become better leaders, we must be willing to change and grow.
Wherever you are in your organization and in your life, start the leadership journey today with the first step. Be the leader you were created to be and be future ready.
Qin Tang is a librarian at the Minnesota Department of Transportation. After graduating from college in China, she studied in Germany for five years on a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service receiving her MA in German. She came to the U.S. in 1991 and fell in love with libraries as she spent countless hours reading and using the Madison Public Library to learn English. She received her MLIS from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 1994. Qin has worked in public, academic, corporate and government libraries. She was profiled in the March 2007 issue of Information Outlook - “A roundabout route to Minnesota”. Qin is also a writer and blogger. Read her article “There is no place like the library” and connect with her via LinkedIn or Twitter @TangQin.