Until recently, I thought I wasn’t a leader. Then a few months ago it all changed.
Consistently I started to get told that I was inspiring people. I was seeing the changes that people were making as a result of the blog posts I putting up on social media. I felt good. I felt like I had a purpose that made a difference.
Then I took the opposite approach: I decided to think about how to not fall into the trap of becoming a spineless leader. I’ve met many of them. They’re like walking zombies except they stand up straight and look like they have a normal spine. They don’t.
Here’s how to *not* be a spineless leader:
1. Don’t be a “Yes Man or Yes Woman”
Saying yes because you think others will appreciate you for it is spineless. Real leaders say what they think regardless of whether it’s the popular thing to say. Say what you think. Give honest feedback in a respectful way. It’s possible to do without your ego getting in the way.
2. Do the dirty work
Quick story for you all. I met a very senior leader that refused to ever talk to a customer. Their response to the question “Can you talk to a customer?” was, “I just do strategy,”
That’s the best description I can give of a spineless leader. Real leaders want to be in the trenches to understand what their people are going through. Real leaders know the front line better than anyone. It’s this knowledge that helps them steer the team in the right direction and make it out alive.
“Real leaders know that you have to do the dirty work before you can ever become a leader”
Once you get the illustrious title, it’s then your job to never be too precious of doing the dirty work again. At the drop of a hat, you should be prepared to do whatever it takes to help the team reach its goals.
You still get to outsource, but what you don’t get to do is sit in an ivory tower, alone with your strategy documents and hold your head up high. That task is reserved for spineless leaders.
3. Avoid trying to be a people pleaser
At least a third of the people you meet are going to think you are an asshole. Deal with it. We all have different tastes and likes. Sometimes all it takes is someone to disagree with the color of your pants for them to think bad things about you.
Getting people to like you, for who you are, flaws and all, is far more important. Real people are insanely rare and they stand out in a good way.
“Kissing ass, on the other hand, is a dirty little habit that spineless leaders use to fill in the void of authenticity that is missing in their life”
Being a people pleaser will only get you so far. Then, all of a sudden, your career progress will halt and you’ll have no idea why. The reason is because you’re acting like a suck and everyone knows it.
4. Have direction, combined with determination
Having no idea where you’re heading is spineless. The people that follow you can’t be led by you unless they know where you’re heading. For all they know, you’re leading them off a cliff without even realizing it.
What makes us follow a leader is when we feel that they are determined to achieve an outcome at whatever it costs. The “never die” attitude is persuasive and motivating for anyone listening. None of us want to invest time in a leader who’s lost and could give up at any moment.
5. Have courage in spite of all the risks
It’s easy to say to know based on some unforeseen risk. The reality is everything we ever do has risk. It’s not about avoiding risk; it’s about understanding and managing it. That takes real courage to do because you could lose your position as “The Leader.”
That title you’ve worked so hard for could be taken away from you at a moments notice because of a risk you took.
At the other end of the spectrum is to take no risks. This means that nothing ever changes. The outcome of all of this risk avoidance is the following:
– No innovation
– Lack of motivation
– A lowering of team morale
– The risk that you get beaten by the opposition
Spineless leaders are asleep at the wheel because their risk avoidance leads to a lack of progress. We’re either growing or we’re dying. It takes calculated risks to grow.
6. Allow others to shine brighter
A spineless leader doesn’t like when someone takes the spotlight away from themselves. A real leader loves when their team does amazing things and likes to celebrate with them. These same leaders like to build others up so eventually they can create more leaders just like them.
“The goal is to breed more authentic leaders, not to be the only leader, therefore becoming a dictator of sorts”
7. Intentionally be a leader
Spineless leaders got their role by accident because someone asked them to try it and the title sounded good, got them more money, made them feel good or was the easy option at the time. We’ve all met someone who fell into leadership and has no passion for it.
Real leaders are intentional and have worked their entire life to serve others and make progress towards their cause. The difference between the two is the same as the difference between the person that came sixth in the Olympics at high jump and the person that won gold the last three times for the same event.
Dabbling and being unintentional, when it comes to leadership, is for amateurs. You either want to be a leader or you don’t. If you want to be a leader, then you better show up ready to do what it takes.
Otherwise, leadership will knock you flat on your face and make you a complaining victim who’s angry at the world. I don’t want that for you and neither do you.
8. Make a decision
To not make a decision is the biggest problem. Spineless leaders procrastinate on decisions in the hope that the decision is forgotten about or sidelined. Real leaders make a decision in a timely manner and back themselves regardless of the outcome.
9. Be focused on your team
The whole meaning of a leader is to be focused on the people they lead. We’ve all met spineless leaders who have the title only to exploit it and use it for vanity metrics. You have to give to your people for them to deliver you the tangible progress towards your mission that you’re seeking from them.
To do that you need to be likable. To be likable, you need to be prepared to give all of yourself and be prepared to get nothing in return. Real leaders have no guarantee of success. Real leaders still take the position because it’s the channel they use to give their experience, knowledge and selflessness to the world.
Leadership is for people who stand for a cause beyond their own. Leadership is for people who believe that they can make the world a better place which in turn gives something back of value to all of us.
You probably think this may not sound like a whole lot of fun. It may appear that way but it’s freaking amazing when you give all of yourself and get to make a difference. It’s the best thing you can ever receive. You’ll only understand this lesson when you become a real leader.
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