Knowing your “why” is the first step, says Doug Dickerson
“There are times when a leader must move out ahead of the flock, go off in a new direction, confident that he is leading his people the right way.” – Nelson Mandela
When Irving S. Olds was chairman of the U.S. Steel Corporation, he arrived for a stockholders’ meeting and was confronted by a woman who asked, “Exactly who are you and what do you do?” Without batting an eye, Olds replied, “I am your chairman. Of course, you know the duties of a chairman –– that’s someone who is roughly the equivalent of parsley on a platter of fish.”
The pretense in Irving S. Olds’ answer may have satisfied the inquisitive woman, but it is a relevant question for leaders today. Understandably, the people you lead need to know who you are and what you do. If not, they will not follow you. But beyond that, it’s imperative that you know the answer.
The fact is, every leader wants to be relevant. I’ve yet to meet a leader who did not want to be at his or her best and make an impact. The issue of relevance however, is not about satisfying your ego or building yourself up at the expense of knocking someone else down.
The measure of your relevance as a leader may be open to subjective interpretation by some people. That being said, the measure of your relevance is not about how others see you but how you answer the following four questions. It’s not an exhaustive set of questions by which to gauge your relevance as a leader but it’s a good place to start.
- Do I know my “why?”
Simon Sinek popularized the idea in his book, Start With Why, and it has revolutionized the lives of many with the discovery. So the question is, “Why do I do what I do?” Put another way, “What drives and inspires you?” It’s a question every leader must answer.
Until you know the answer it will be hard to lead and consequently it will be hard to be relevant. Unless you know the “why” of your life in leadership it will be difficult for others to know why they should follow you. Being relevant in the lives of the people you lead begins by being honest with yourself. Know your “why”.
- Are my values clear?
Having a clear set of values is what keeps you grounded as a leader. When your values are clear then decision-making becomes much easier. Values-based decisions are made not by what is expedient or popular but by a governing set of principles.
Unfortunately, some leaders fall into the trap of confusing being popular for being relevant. The two could not be more different. If you want to be relevant as a leader in the 21st century then be a leader with a clear set of values and stick to them. If your values are not clear then your leadership will be uncertain. Relevance begins with clearly defined values.
- Am I building relationships?
Leaders are busy people. I get it. But the day you become too busy to connect and build relationships with your people is the day you become irrelevant in their eyes. Building relationships is time-consuming and is hard work. But consider the consequences if you don’t.
Your relevance as a leader is tied to your ability and desire to build relationships with the people you lead. The greater the desire and effort, the greater relevance and impact you will have. It’s not complicated. I realize you will not have deep personal relationships with everyone on your team, but as a leader you should always remember that people are your most appreciable asset. How you connect and build relationships will make a world of difference. If you want to be relevant to your people then get connected to them. There are no shortcuts.
- Am I still growing?
Your ability to connect and be relevant with your people hinges on your growth and development as a leader. How are you growing the leader within you? The simple truth is this: you can’t give what you don’t have. If you are not growing as a leader your relevance as a leader will suffer
Be proactive and intentional in your growth as a leader. Make reading good leadership books a priority, find good leadership podcasts to listen to, and subscribe to good magazines to read such as Executive Secretary Magazine. Your growth and development as a leader will set you apart as a leader. Your relevance as a leader depends on it.