Even in the earliest days of my career as the owner of a paving company, I had no trouble identifying problems. It doesn’t take a lot of leadership ability to realize that employee engagement and attitudes–positive or negative–have a major impact on a company’s success. I even had the slogan, “attitude is everything” on my business cards.
Unfortunately for me–and for my employees–identifying a problem and solving one are two very different things! I was not equipped at that time to solve the problems I had identified. I also could not equip my people to solve problems because I had not yet equipped myself, and that brings us to our topic for today.
So far we have looked at two traits of Extreme Leadership: self-leadership, and influence. In this post we want to move to the third and final trait–equipping.
Leaders solve problems. That is what they do.
Leaders. Solve. Problems…
Leaders are problem solvers.
Ok, I think you get the point. To be extreme leaders we must be extreme problem-solvers. Great leaders are great problem solvers in part because they are equippers. They equip those around them with the tools they need in order to be successful. This is one of the ways a great leader empowers and inspires others. But we cannot give something we do not have.
Have you ever glanced up from your iPad or Skymall catalog long enough to actually observe a pre-flight airline safety speech? Yeah, me either. I just want to get the bird in the air already! But if you ever do, you’ll notice that they stress the importance of securing your own oxygen mask in an emergency before attempting to help your neighbor, and for good cause. Unconscious individuals aren’t especially helpful!
In this context, equipping one’s self as a prerequisite for equipping others seems almost comically obvious. But in the landscape of leadership we only wish it were as obvious. There are many would-be experts who will happily
give sell you the secret formula for leadership success, in spite of not having equipped themselves to be the type of leader they supposedly want to help you become. Where I’m from, we call those people hypocrites.
Equipping is about others–even when you are equipping yourself. To add more value we simply must make ourselves more valuable. This is true whether you are the CEO of a large corporation or the newest employee. Bad work cultures nearly always include employees and/or employers who have become so fixated on the value they wish to receive that they have lost sight of the value they provide (or don’t provide). This is getting the cart ahead of the horse. We must give value before receiving it. Healthy cultures focus on the value exchange.
To get the most from any value exchange, we need to be focused on the right end of it. To get the horse back in front of the cart, take anything from which you want to receive value and put it in the place of the word “country’ in JFK’s famous line:
“Ask not what your _______ (employer, employee, wife, husband, etc) can do for you, but what you can do for your ___________. “
This is the sort of self-equipping that allows improvement to compound over time. Yes, it is extreme. No, it isn’t average. But who is looking for average? Not us.
How well are you prepared to equip? What can you do–specifically–to better equip yourself so that you can equip those around you?
I would suggest starting by making a time investment in yourself. Take the time to read good books. Listen to podcasts or audiobooks. There are so many great ones out there.
Depending on your personality, this may seem like a waste of time that could be better spent doing something for which you will see a more immediate return. Believe me, I get it. I’m wired that way too. But finally trusting this process has transformed my life and it can do the same for you.