What comes to mind when you think of a “leader?” In my travels I’ve spoken with many people about leadership and most fall into 3 camps: position-based, action-based or character-based leadership.
Some think about leaders as people who are in the position of leadership. They’re the person in charge, the boss. Talking about this type of leader, we might say “there can only be one leader,” and “the buck has to stop somewhere.” We even use words that denote position, “somewhere,” or “at the top.” Or we may talk about the leader as being the person “in” charge. Even the idea of a leader of a race is a position as is a leader of a sport. The leader of any contest has a position. They’re “in” the lead.
Positional leadership is more about authority than influence.
However with the 1980′s and the beginning of business and self-help publishing, we transitioned from a positional leadership model to an action-based leadership model. Leaders were the people who demonstrated leadership skills and practiced leadership behaviors. We launched the idea that a leader was someone who had followers. If our actions produce the result, then we must be a leader. This even spawned the idea that leadership could be something we were born with. We would inherently practice these behaviors as if they were part of our DNA. We might even find the leadership gene. For the last 30 years, much leadership writing has focused on the behaviors of leaders. Either the people in positions of leadership or those aspiring to be in a leadership position should know and practice these skills or behaviors to demonstrate their leadership ability.
Action based leadership is pragmatic. Leaders do their thing and followers do their thing.
When I first started using the term “character-based leader,” I wanted to be able to define my meaning of the term. I didn’t think the world needed another list of character traits and there was already an organization that promotes character based leadership. Would I simply join one of them or would I develop my own definition?
For me, that definition came from being “not” positional or action-based. For me character-based leadership would be leadership based on the person… their character… their “who-they-are.” A friend mentioned one time that his training regimen and attitude changed with a simple decision. He had been practicing for a triathlon but, rather than simply trying a triathlon or practicing for it, he decided he was a triathlete. His actions came from the decision he made about who he would be. When he made that decision, he had not run a triathlon. He simply decided and then his actions and the results flowed from who he was.
Character-based leadership begins with ownership and responsibility.
When you decide to be a leader, several things happen. You take control of your future. You realize you don’t need permission or a promotion to be a leader. You don’t even need any training in the behaviors either. You simply make the decision to be a person others would join (I dislike the idea of “followers”). You take responsibility, share credit, help, serve, initiate, and support. You take risks, but responsibly. You elevate your purpose by considering others more important than yourself. And your best you, brings out the best in others. The people on your team and the people who join you in your effort rise up and become leaders too. You can measure your success as a leader by the impact you have in the lives of others.
Are you the person you’d most like to follow? Focus your best energy on becoming the best person you can be and you’ll find that great people join you in your endeavors. That’s character-based leadership! It will free you to #bealeader and make your greatest positive difference.