Leaders of Leaders
There are people in my life that make me want to be a better person. They’re not perfect. They too have grumpy days, bad hair days, self-doubting days. They too are incredibly human, with all that entails. But they are the leaders of leaders. They step up when nobody else does, without being asked. They focus on what can be done, when the masses are focused on can’t. They are the people who light the way with their generous spirit. Our organizations need more leaders like this. Our communities need more leaders like this. Our world needs more leaders like this.
My friend Alise is that kind of leader. She never ceases to amaze me. Alise sits on multiple non-profit boards, volunteers for every charitable event imaginable, speaks at conferences across the country, juggles her expanding business and family activities without breaking a sweat, runs, lifts weights, composts, remembers birthdays, has a PhD, cooks like a dream, is diplomatic, asks great questions and actually listens, is humble, kind, thoughtful, genuine, powerful. Oh, did I mention that she had 40 people over for Thanksgiving? Cooked 5 (or was it 6…) turkeys, a ham (because “Not everyone eats turkey, Honey”), vegetarian manicotti, probably 15 side dishes, desserts, wine, a “special holiday beverage”. You name it, she thought of it. It was breathtaking.
But it’s what Alise does from a leadership perspective that makes such a difference in her results. This Thanksgiving, I got lucky. I got in on the “behind-the-scenes-action” that makes her soirees such a success. Here’s what I found to be her recipe for success:
She was well prepared Alise left nothing to chance. She thought through every detail – the right ingredients, the tools required, what guests might need and want, and what experience she wanted them to have from the moment they walked through the door until they departed.
How often do we jump into meetings without having adequately prepared? Or have conversations that go side-ways because we haven’t thought through what the other person might want and need? In OnStage Leadership we talk a lot about the difference between consciously choosing our actions vs. reacting to the world around us. Choosing the right actions to get the right results requires preparation.
She delegated and then let go Because Alise was so well prepared, she had thought through all of the different tasks that needed to be done ahead of time. She had assembled her team. And she had set expectations appropriately (we all knew what we were in for, when her email went out detailing the day’s to-do’s). She didn’t waste anyone’s time. She matched our skills/talents to the different jobs (I am not ashamed to admit that I peeled 30 lbs of potatoes). She appropriately matched the person to the task and then trusted us to get it done. She held the vision, took charge of the things that required her expertise, and delegated the details.
Great leaders understand that if they want to accomplish great things, they can’t get mired in the details. If Alise had to spend her time peeling and chopping, she would either have to limit what could be done, expect it to take a lot longer, or know that it would have a tremendous impact on the quality of her results. As leadership guru Warren Bennis once said, “Failing organizations are usually over-managed and under-led.”
She was in the trenches and expressed gratitude I’ve never enjoyed peeling potatoes so much in my life. I watched people joyfully chopping green beans, setting up tables, moving couches, stirring hot pots, and tearing goodness-knows-how-many-loaves-of-bread into little chunks. All the while, Alise made all of us feel like rock stars. Alise. Who was working harder than anyone in the room, took every opportunity to thank us. She thanked us for being there. She thanked us for helping. She thanked us for our friendship. Her spirit of gratitude was contagious. I think it’s safe to speak for everyone who helped out that day – we were all thankful to be there. And wow, did we get a lot done!
Imagine…working for an organization where everyone felt like rock stars and they were thankful to work their tails off. What might be accomplished?
This month I am thankful for the leaders of leaders. The people out there inspiring us to be more that we thought possible. The people out there who carry a vision of what’s possible, under impossible circumstances. The leaders modeling the way. The world needs more leaders like that.
Are you going to step up?
©OnStage Leadership, 2010
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