There is no one true definition of leadership. By it's very nature, leadership is so define-able, that it is actually not possible to create one definition that works for everyone. Leadership is so contextual and situational that if you have a definition of leadership in your head, there's a pretty good chance you're right.
When I see lists of what makes a great leader (and it seems like they are everywhere) or the characteristics of leadership, I cringe a little. It's not that the lists don't have merit or that what's listed doesn't actually work, it's just that I think it's the wrong approach. Characteristics and lists aren't the answer to developing your leadership. You can gain some insight from those lists, but you should know you already have the characteristics and skills you need. Leadership is a matter of mindset.
I have worked with many organizations over the last few years and inevitably there is someone in the team or the organization that says something along the lines of, "well, that's just the way I am, if they don't like it, too bad." It never ceases to shock me. What that statement clearly demonstrates is a "center of the universe" approach to working with others. This also represents a mindset that is hinging on the premise of: "what can the organization/team do for me?" These colleagues often suck the energy out of the room, cause managers to hold "closed door" meetings to devise strategies for dealing with them, and are often the most difficult to work with as they are actually taking away from the success of the organization and of others. I am happy to note that these folks do not represent the majority. However, there is something fundamentally wrong with the mindset that the world around you should change to accommodate you.
What separates leaders is a simple shift in mindset. What makes a leader? Bringing value to others.
A simple question guides this approach: "How can I bring value to my team, my organization, and my colleagues/clients?" This question removes the "center of the universe" mentality and encourages the delivery of your skills, talents, and assets in service to your colleagues and clients. Regardless of your skill set or characteristics, you can bring value.
In my own leadership journey, I find that as I enter new situations, asking myself the question, "what can I do to best be of service to the people around me right now?" serves me well. I don't always deliver value or make the right choice on what is valuable, but just by asking the question, I am more in tune with what is happening around me and the needs of the people I am working with. Regardless of weather you or I get it right every time isn't the point - no leader is infallible - the point is that without a doubt, flipping from a me-centered approach to a value-to-others approach will make you a better leader regardless of your context or situation.
Stay tuned for part II. In the meantime, give this approach a shot and comment below on what you discover. Can't wait to hear about it.