Well hey everybody, welcome to the Red Door Creative podcast. My name is Jordan Farris and I’m the founder and owner of Red Door Creative which is a digital creative agency. The goal of my business is ultimately to help great people do great things, and this podcast is just one way that I hope to help business people and marketers like yourself do just that. Also, I’m careful to keep the episodes short and sweet because I know you’re busy like I am. Let’s hop into it.
When I was young, I worked at a grocery store. I was assigned to manage the frozen and dairy sections of the store, going to work at 7 in the morning and coming home at 4 in the afternoon. It was a busy job, and after I learned the ropes the shifts started to fly by. I only had one problem with this job. I had 2 supervisors - the store manager and the assistant manager. And their relationship wasn’t exactly a great example of a healthy working relationship. They would constantly contradict each other, confusing myself and the other employees on a near-daily basis. On top of that, both of these bosses were extreme micro-managers, obsessive about tiny details and allowing no ownership to be taken by the employees. I can remember realizing how low my productivity had been due to being told in the morning to handle a task one way, and having to r edo it in the afternoon when the assistant manager came in. This was not an environment that you would say was exactly conducive to the longevity of employees… and not surprisingly, I only worked there about 6 or 7 months. This was the first time I would realize the significance of leadership within an organization. I suddenly had a lot of first-hand direction about how to NOT to be a leader.
Alright, so how can we define leadership? In what ways can we sharpen our leadership abilities? What differentiates great leaders from poor leaders? I’m glad you asked.
What is Leadership?
So what is leadership? The Cambridge dictionary defines leadership as “a person in control of a group, country, or situation.” Alright, that’s pretty clear. So we’ll say leadership lessons can apply to anyone who is in control of a group, country, or situation, which is basically all of us at some point in our lives.
Researchers have spent countless hours studying the evolution of leadership theory and trying to explain which qualities make great leaders. Early on, experts thought that leaders need to imitate the characteristics and personalities of legendary leaders from the past in order to become great leaders themselves. Eventually, this theory fell apart when people realized that the personalities of leaders vary much more than what was originally thought. So if not personality traits or imitation, what factors could effectively describe how leaders are built? The Influence Era brought us greatly improved thinking on leadership because researchers realized that effective leadership flows out of relationships with people. The problem with this way of thinking is that it developed dictator-like leaders who leveraged their relationships with employees to strong arm their command rather than focusing on building healthy, productive relationships. This authoritarian-style leadership model is still in use by many leaders, and you may even be thinking of one as I talk through this. There have been countless models and revisions of leadership theory since the Influence Era, basically incorporating one or two new ideas while keeping the core thinking the same; but in the last 30 to 40 years leadership theory has developed a wealth of new ideas that veer away from leaders dominating their workforce and rather promotes leaders investing in and building their subordinates.
When I think about all this history, I can’t help but feel like many of today’s leaders are stuck in the past. It’s time for leaders to update their thinking about what it means to be in a leadership position. I want to share with you 3 qualities that I believe are possessed by the great leaders of today.
Great leaders are vulnerable.
Great leaders are vulnerable. This is one of those ideas that sounds so cliche but contains so much value. I define vulnerability as “risking the exposure of one’s uncertainty in any area.” Have you ever worked for someone who always acted like they had the answer? How annoying is it to talk to someone who isn’t willing to admit they’re not perfect? I used to have a boss like this. The kind of leader who would rather lie than expose the fact that they don’t remember something… the kind of person who makes up answers to questions they don’t understand so that you’ll think they’re adept.
But what does it take to be the kind of leader who isn’t afraid of vulnerability? Like many of us, I believe that many leaders have insecurities and self-worth problems that, if not dealt with, can cause a person to close up and restrict exposure of their true self for fear of not being seen as adequate. This uncertainty about a person’s own standing in the world can lead a boss to be critical, dismissive, and uncontrollably narcissistic.
The truth is, if you want to lead others, you’ve got to lead yourself… which means dealing with the issues in your life that make vulnerability so difficult. You need to acquire the sure footing of healthy self-worth and confidence in order to be the kind of leader who can admit when they’re wrong. Who doesn’t want to work for that kind of person?
Great leaders run alongside their team.
In addition to being vulnerable, great leaders also love to run alongside their team. Nothing is worse than working for someone who you perceive as lazy. Have you ever worked for someone who you felt like never actually did anything but expected you to perform at work? Nobody wakes up in the morning ready to go work for that person.
When I was in college, I worked for a large pharmaceutical company on the graveyard shift packing boxes full of prescriptions in a warehouse. The work was difficult to say the least. The shifts were 12 hours each, from 6pm to 6am and I did this 3 times a week while juggling two other jobs and an 18 hour course load. And the work in this warehouse was tiring… you were on your feet the entire 12 hour shift with lunch break around midnight. The weird thing is, this is one of my most favorite work experiences ever. The reason? My bosses were INCREDIBLE. There was a strong sense of team and camaraderie on every shift, and the managers were on the floor with us, encouraging us and pumping us up every step of the way. On several occasions, the bosses would surprise our shift with a special reward like a catered lunch or surprise extra break during the night. Somehow, some way, I wanted to come to work those nights because I felt like I was a part of something significant and I knew my managers were looking forward to seeing me. This experience showed me how important it was for leaders to demonstrate both their dedication to the mission and their dedication to their team. It felt good to know my bosses really worked there too… they weren’t hidden away in back offices and they consistently demonstrated their approachability by making themselves part of our experience on each shift.
It’s worth considering what you could do to demonstrate to your workforce that you’re here beside them and not off in the distance, living in your own world. And if you don’t have a workforce already, how could you prepare to be this kind of boss?
Great leaders empower and inspire.
If there was one concept I would want today’s leader to embrace, it would be this one: the core function of the leader is to build others. Gone are the days of the top-down dictatorial leadership that says “you do what I say because I’m the boss.” Today’s leader must be committed to the idea of empowering teams to be the best versions of themselves. Delegation can be a great method of embracing the concept of team empowerment. Leaders must give their team members opportunities to excel and fly on their own by offering them good old fashioned trust.
As the leader of a team or organization, what tasks could you begin to give away to team members? Delegation builds trust. But delegation also requires your commitment to the big picture… don’t allow yourself to become obsessive about the details of HOW your subordinates do their work. Offer them trust to get the job done as adults who you hired. You must also remember that your way of doing things is only your way… it’s not necessarily the right way. It’s so critical that employees are allowed to be themselves. Don’t hire someone with the intention of creating another you… circle back to that vulnerability from earlier and allow yourself to embrace the thoughts and opinions of others on your team.
Great leaders keep the lines of communication open and offer constructive feedback to their employees often. Great leaders also openly ask for feedback and the opinions of others. You should welcome criticism of not only yourself but also of your systems and ways of operating. Great leaders openly praise successes and aren’t afraid of failure. What do your employees believe about you? Are they afraid to fail in front of you? Do they know their worth in your organization? Are they inspired to be the best they can be? I hope so.
Leaders are important. I hope that you begin to consider whether or not you’re open and vulnerable with your team. I hope you see the importance of running alongside your team and being available. And most of all, I hope that you’re committed to empowering and inspiring those under your leadership.
That’s all for this episode of the Red Door Creative Podcast. If you got anything out of this show, follow my business @madebyreddoor on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Anchor. I’ve got new shows dropping each Friday on your favorite podcasting platform. You can find those links when you follow me on social. You guys have a good one, and we’ll see you next time! Thanks for listening.