Okay, I hate hokey little mnemonic devices — even when they work. It is something in my wiring, and I hate it even more when I come up with them, so I apologize in advance. But as I have been preparing a number of presentations recently, I note with some alarm that my key principles are all starting with the letter “E”. And I don’t consider these lightweight principles that need to be twisted into shape to fit the list. Check them out yourself, and see what you might add. Just remember kids, today’s letter is the letter “E”.
Engage — effective leaders engage others, they build connections, they network, they communicate, they ask provocative questions and share compelling visions. They manage relationships in all directions, listening to subordinates, superiors and peers with equal investment. They thrive on discussion, dialogue, debate and a dynamic give-and-take of ideas and opportunities. They are bridge-builders who continuously expand their circles of inclusion.
Educate — great leaders teach and inspire. They push themselves and others to expand horizons and deepen understanding. They seek out new ideas and new information. They share their thinking and invite others to share as well. Effective leaders commit to continuous improvement — intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, physically — they rarely settle for “good enough.” Transformative leadership requires lifelong learning, growth and development.
Encourage — Good leaders encourage those around them, finding the best in others and affirming and praising their strengths. Rather than focusing on their own ego needs, the best leaders look to the emotional and affective needs of those with whom they serve, and they strive to strengthen the morale of everyone involved. Disdaining empty flattery, true leaders find authentic and legitimate gifts, skills, assets and strengths, and they offer meaningful appreciation.
Elevate — lifting people up, through emotional and physical promotion generates positive energy and unleashes amazing potential. Granting others not only responsibility but authority is a great gift that generally pays hefty dividends. Helping to push people to rise to their fullest potential is an art. Often, leaders are threatened by the gifts of others and they work, either consciously or unconsciously, to undermine them. Good leaders celebrate the gifts each person brings and they help them use them wisely and well.
Expect — great leaders constantly raise the bar. They expect people to give their best, do their best, and bring their best to each situation. For every goal achieved, a newer, higher, more challenging objective is revealed. Great leaders hold people to high standards, and they refuse to settle for anything less than total effort. These leaders develop structures for accountability that produce positive consequences for those who give their all and that yield negative consequences for those who give less than their best.
Empower — dynamic leaders don’t “do for,” but they empower others to do for themselves. The provide an environment where people can discover their gifts and skills, where they can develop competencies into proficiencies, and where they can put what they learn to practical use as people make the transition from followers to leaders, from students to teachers, from the practice field to the playing field. They don’t micro-manage or hover — they release and rejoice as new leadership potential is set free.
Exemplify — Effective leadership is both taught and caught. Those who model empowering, engaging, encouraging, educating, equipping, etc., teach without ever saying a word. To exemplify great leadership is to open the door to more great leadership. As people emulate the best practices and skills of one another, the overall standard of leadership rises. No one will settle for adequate leadership when exceptional leadership is an option.
Explore — leaders take us to new places (followers go where others have already gone). To test new waters, push limits, experiment, and take risks is second nature to good leaders. Improvement and growth is rarely available within the confines of what we already know how to do. To dig deeper and cast our reach wider is the key to growth. Good leaders take us places we would never have gone without their influence and vision.
Equip — the very best leaders strive to work themselves out of a job. They are shepherding, mentoring, guiding, teaching, and equipping others to do what they can do. They seek others who share their gifts, then help them to use them effectively. Effective leaders often report that they not only find people who can do what they do, but they find people who can even do it better. As leaders equip others to step up into shared leadership, they find they are freed to learn and seek and grow in new areas.
Excel — the very best leaders work from their strengths instead of compensating for their weaknesses. They focus on one or two gifts, skills, talents or abilities where they can become world-class, functioning at the very highest level. Mediocrity is simply not an option. Great leaders are great leaders — there is a commitment to the utmost quality. They seek not merely to achieve their goals, but to significantly exceed their own, as well as the expectations of others.
When individuals commit to these standards, amazing things can happen. When individuals commit together to join their gifts, skills, knowledge, abilities and passion for excellence — God can work miracles through them. Reflect on what leadership means to you and to those with whom you serve — then kick it up a notch and see what happens. (I dare you!)