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Take seven steps to leadership success

Have you been chosen as the next leader for a year of your professional association, chamber of commerce, nonprofit organization or social group? If so, you might consider my seven steps to a successful year as leader.

Step 1. Understand Leadership

If you take a trip to the nearest bookstore and scan the books on leadership, you might want to allow plenty of time. There is no shortage of books on the subject. One wonders how many variations of leadership there can be. John Maxwell, the prolific author of a dozen or more leadership books, says that he came to the conclusion that leadership is really about influence. A leader is someone who influences others to do desired things.

The most noted opportunity for leadership is a crisis. General Douglas MacArthur once said, “There are no great men, only great opportunities.” Some experts even go so far as to say that the only time that there can be fundamental change in an organization is when there is chaos.

Furthermore, change will often come from outside the organization. The most difficult leadership opportunity is when things are going really well. After all, who wants to change if things are going fairly well?

Step 2. Understand Community

A community is a collection of people with a common interest. The smallest community might be a family, then a neighborhood, then a larger identifiable area. For our purposes, the community is the organization that you will be leading. The common interest is whatever the organization aspires to be or do. That should be found in the organization’s mission.

Abraham Maslow, the noted psychiatrist, said that the most basic emotional need is to be accepted by others, or stated another way, to belong to a group. Your odds for success will be improved to the extent that your group members feel that this need is met. Not all groups work well. Patrick Lencioni, author of “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” identified team dysfunctions as (1) absence of trust, (2) fear of conflict, (3) lack of commitment, (4) avoidance of accountability and (5) inattention to results. Be on the lookout for these conditions and address them immediately.

Step 3. Set Personal Goals

Goals should be specific, measurable and achievable. New leaders might want to consider answering the following questions:

a. Where do I want to go? (What do you want to happen?)

b. What will prevent me from getting there?

c. Who will most likely be opposed?

d. Do I have a timetable for reaching the goal?

e. Who can help me most to reach the goal?

Step 4. Survey the Environment

Understand what you are getting into. In my experience, most people serve on boards or get involved in organizations because someone else asks them to. They often go into the role without any in-depth knowledge of the organization. Take some time to review the bylaws, minutes, newsletters and other documents of the organization. Find out which vendors are being used. Are these vendors giving you the best deal? Talk to past leaders of the group and current and former members. Check out the Internet search engines.

Step 5. Plan the Strategy

The purpose of your strategic planning retreat is to look ahead to the end of the year, decide where you want to be and how you will get there. It is also the time when your organization sets the goals for the year and assigns responsibility for the carrying out of those goals. The retreat also sets the tone for the year and provides a place for everyone on your leadership team to voice his or opinions.

Step 6. Implement the Plan

This is the step where most leaders fail. As much as we love to plan strategy and set goals, we often fail to do the two things that are critical to success. Those are to assign responsibility for each goal and to hold those accountable who are responsible. The leader for a year should be dealing with these two things at least monthly.

Step 7. Celebrate Success

Celebrating success gives the organization a chance to look back and to look forward. It therefore sets a standard for the future.

Celebrations may come in many different forms, but should be consistent with the organization, i.e., the PTA might have cookies and milk at school, while a large chamber may have a formal banquet. The celebration should include customers, clients and constituents of the organization.

It should look back on the year and reflect on the goals that were set at the retreat, the goals that were accomplished, the unplanned things that affected the organization and whose lives are better because of your organization. But the most important part of celebrating is to recognize those who made the success possible.

Best wishes, leader for a year.

About Phil Hardwick

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