“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
– Robert Frost
Leadership is the road less traveled.
Leadership is the hardest path to take. Leadership requires sacrifice, extra work, and a big heart. To some, leadership comes naturally. To others, it’s a some sort of voodoo magic they can’t understand.
In my years leading teams and organizations, I’ve had to give up every one of these. I’ve compiled a list of 13 rights effective leaders must forfeit.
Give It Up
Some people still think leadership is about title or hierarchy… false. And others think that there’s no possible way they could be a leader, but it doesn’t take much. If you can give these up, you can be a leader.
1.) The Right to Complain
Complaining is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere. Leaders know complaining isn’t taking their team anywhere. Instead of focusing on why something sucks or who could be doing a better job, they step up to the plate and they make it better.
2.) The Right to Pick on Others
People filled with insecurity have a nasty habit of making fun of people and putting others down. As a leader, that doesn’t fly. No matter how “joking” you were about a comment, there’s always some truth behind it. People can feel that sting.
People with poor attitudes and low self esteem rarely do great work. But when they’re on cloud nine and they’re inspired, they are ready to run through brick wall for the person that motivated them.
Who you have on your team depends on how you treat your people. You can make them have a poor attitude by poking fun of them or you can inspire them by building them up. A leader’s job is to pick others up, not pick on others.
3.) The Right to Deflect Blame
Nothing builds confidence like transparency. Every leader makes mistakes. But the ones that earn the respect of their peers and followers are the ones that own up to those mistakes.
Sometimes it’s not even a leader’s fault and they still take the blame. If you’ve ever seen a coach in a post-game press conference take the blame for a loss, you’re seeing this forfeited right in action. He wasn’t necessarily the reason for the loss, but it starts with him so he’s takes the blame.
You’ll never be able to grow as a leader if you’re always blaming losses or mistakes on someone else. When you own up to those stumbles, you can begin to learn from them. If you never own up, you’ll never earn respect.
4.) The Right Take Credit
Just because leaders shoulder the blame, doesn’t mean they get to carry all the credit. Sure, they’ll be awarded credit from outside sources and people that know them will praise them. But when they’re asked about it, real leaders will always respond with a deflection about how great their supporting cast performed. During failure leaders point in the mirror, during success the finger points toward the team.
5.) The Right to Have a Poor Attitude
The head coach I played for at CSU used to have a car commercial that read, “The speed of the leader determines the rate of the pack.” Nothing could ring more true.
If a leader has a poor attitude, the rest of the organization will fall in line. Leaders do not get to pout, their attitudes are contagious. It is the leader’s job to be positive, to determine the speed, and set the expectations.
6.) The Right to Be Lazy
People will pay infinitely more attention to your actions than your words. If the leader is lazy, expect everyone else to be lazy.
7.) The Right to NOT go First
Some people live in the middle. They’re never first, but they’re never last. They never win the race, but they always compete. They’re good, but never push themselves to be great. Leadership doesn’t get the luxury of good.
As a leader, you have to be willing to go first. You have to take a machete and hack through the unknown, nobody else is going to do it for you. Leaders must have the mindset that they will never ask their team to do something they’re not willing to do first.
8.) The Right to Lack Expectations (in others)
I heard a story about a group of soldiers (all Privates) that were approached by a high ranking officer in street clothes. The officer noticed one of the soldiers had his shirt untucked. Instead of doling out punishment to the Private, the officer punished the other Privates for allowing his fellow soldier to go out in public looking shabby.
An effective leader brings out the best in others. If you see someone doing ho-hum work and you let them get away with it, you’re not being polite. You’re doing them a disservice.
9.) The Right to Live in a Bubble
“He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk.”
If you are a leader, you have to engage the people that are following you. You cannot ignore them, belittle them, or alienate yourself from them. You have to spend time with them and show them you care.
10.) The Right to Adhere to Expectations (in themselves)
A CEO comes out with a new edict, no cell phones on the job. The next day said CEO is seen walking around the office on their cell phone… I can’t think of a faster way to lose the respect of your organization. If you don’t adhere to the expectations, there’s no reason anyone else should either.
11.) The Right to Stop Improving
As a leader, you constantly have to push others to maximize efforts. In order to do that, you have to be willing to improve yourself. Dave Ramsey preaches “Leaders are Readers” because he knows that the best leaders are always trying to improve.
In one of the conversations I had with my former employers before I left ABF, we discussed what had changed. They explained that they were the exact same as when I started. I agreed and then went on to explain how I was much different. I was 6 years older, 6 years wiser, and had 6 more years of experience. I had grown. Your organization will stop improving the day leadership stops improving.
12.) The Right to Give Up
The minute you begin to practice leadership, people’s perception of you will change. Some people will look to you for inspiration. Others will look for you to stumble. And still some will look for validation in you.
If you ever give up, those looking for validation will quit alongside you. Those looking for you to stumble will say, “I always knew they weren’t that strong.” And the people looking for inspiration will be disappointed in you. As a leader, you can never give up on your organization.
13.) The Right to Be Served
One of the last times I saw Pa-Paw, my grandfather, was at church just a few months before I left for college. I had moved out on my own & was rebelling as best as I knew how. But on that night I was called to go to church with my Mom. It was Maundy Thursday, right before Easter. We held a foot washing service, just as Jesus washed his disciples feet before he was crucified.
That night, the patriarch of our family washed my feet. I was an arrogant teenager and the least deserving of anyone
in our family to deserve that treatment from the man who had given so many, so much. That was one of the last times I saw Pa-Paw and I’ll never forget it. That was real leadership, never being too proud to serve others.
YOUR Leadership Abilities
If you notice, every one of these “rights” is an attitude. You have to willingly give these up to become an effective leader. You can be at the bottom of the food chain or on the top, it all starts with your approach.
As I’m reading John C. Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership and attempting to teach young men how to be leaders on the football field, this topic has obviously been on my mind. I wanted to share because I hate to see a potential leader waste their talent.
Last week I attended the Global Leadership Summit and a number of the speakers talked about inspiring others. I believe that is crucial to leadership. But I also believe that working on ones self is also crucial to leadership. This should be a checklist for anyone that is a part of something larger than themselves. If you’re doing some of these, give them up and start to become a better leader today.
If you’re thinking, “well I’m not really a leader so…” WRONG. I knight thee, a leader of others right here & right now!
Everyone has the opportunity to lead. It can be at work, in your home, or even in school. Remember, leadership is attitude, not position. And when we have more leaders, this world will be a better place.
Pa-Paw washed my feet ten years ago. The anniversary of his passing was Wednesday, just as I started writing this post before I even knew the significance of the day. I don’t believe in coincidence, that was for a reason. This post is dedicated to Pa-Paw.
We love you and we miss you!
Leave me a comment or chat with me on Twitter, I’d love to hear from you. Have a great week!