Leaders stay focused on universal needs, and then become energized for seeing them satisfied one way or another. That is the desire that burns in the heart of leaders. To see that desire through, great leaders cultivate optimism, creativity, and persistence. It may not be easy to get from here to there, but we can rise to the challenge and enjoy the ride. Read on to find out how.
When it comes to leadership, one thing is certain: results matter. Effective leaders get things done. That is, you might say, the currency of leadership: the ability to move people toward a desired outcome. If leaders don’t get things done, then chances are they won’t be leaders for long.
So how does that happen? In my experience, four things are critically important to getting things done: desire, optimism, creativity, and persistence. I know those four have been critical ingredients in my own life, and chances are they have been important to you as well. That’s because we are all leaders, regardless of the positions or titles we hold. Those who contribute, lead. So let’s consider how leaders get things done.
Desire. Leadership starts with desire. It’s hard to say how that gets awakened, but no one leads if they don’t have the desire to get something done. And, when it comes to leadership, that desire is usually framed in terms of making life better. Even when leaders seek to get things done through fear and violence, rallying people around the image of a common enemy, they usually do so in the name of making life better. By scapegoating an individual or group, they assert that our problems will go away.
Things never turn out that way, of course, but that doesn’t stop people from trying. Nothing awakens desire faster than the fear of having our subsistence needs threatened. In the wake of a natural disaster or a violent attack, people quickly get mobilized with talk of what “must be done” in order to relieve the suffering, recover from the damage, and reduce the possibility of a recurrence.
Yet there are many needs other than subsistence that can awaken desire. Who has not felt the desire to work with others, for example, out of a strong sense of community? The same could be said about using our unique gifts and talents in ways that are intrinsically satisfying. Or, again, the desire to seek out and to learn new things. Not to mention the desire to live a meaningful life and to leave an enduring legacy. There’s really no end to where desire comes from; it can surface from any sector on the Wheel of Needs.
Great leaders are driven to meet great needs. We seek to make life better by enabling more people to get more of their needs met more of the time. Leaders hang out in the realm of work, competence, contribution, responsibility, exercise, productivity, and reliability. Our desire is no more complicated than this: we seek to make life more wonderful for one and all.
Optimism. Once we get connected to that desire, in clear and specific terms, it’s crucial for leaders to be optimistic about our ability to see that desire through to a successful conclusion. Henry Ford was correct when he quipped, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Great leaders are people who think we can.
Such optimistic thinking is also known as self-efficacy. That’s not the same as self-esteem, a global sense of having positive value as a person; self-efficacy is rather a specific sense of being able to achieve a desired behavioral outcome. When that is a private matter, such as losing weight or running a marathon, self-efficacy translates into what might be called self-leadership. When that outcome involves getting things done through other people, such as raising money or building an organization, self-efficacy translates into the optimism of social-leadership.
Not everyone has that “can-do” attitude. In fact, it’s more the exception than the rule. People look around at the difficulties and exigencies of life only to conclude that the problems represent formidable obstacles which preclude success. Leaders see things differently. It’s not that leaders put on rose-colored glasses or stick our heads in the sand. It’s not that leaders pretend there are no problems. It’s rather that leaders are optimistic about our ability to navigate a way through, around, over, or under problems.
Leaders believe there is always such a way. “Success can be arranged,” is the mantra of great leaders. We may not know exactly how to get it done, we just know it can be done. That is a basic framework of great leadership. We steadfastly believe in the realm of possibility.
Creativity. One reason leaders believe in the realm of possibility is because we live in the land of creativity. Outside-the-box thinking is not just optional for great leadership, it is essential. That’s what makes our optimism a practical tool rather than a naive sentiment. We encourage people to think thoughts we have never thought before and to try approaches we have never tried before.
Brainstorming and prototyping are two of the ways we do that. We generate large numbers of ideas, questions, options, alternatives, and perspectives • without regard to whether or not they are practical or even feasible • and then we try out the best ones in the spirit of conducting an experiment. Great leaders don’t know in advance what we will do or how things will turn out. Great leaders simply know that the creative process itself will always find a way.
The notion of prototyping is essential to the creative process. If you think you have to come up an idea that is sure to work, the first time, then you are going to be very careful and cautious when it comes to both the ideas you generate and the steps you take. If you think you have the freedom to test out an idea and to learn from what happens, then you are going to be much more creative and venturesome. With the design firm IDEO, great leaders live by the mantra, “Fail often to succeed sooner.”
Persistence. That mantra assumes, of course, that we hang in there long enough to learn from our failures and to build on our successes. Great leaders are optimistic and creative precisely because we know that if we hang in there long enough, constantly tweaking the design, we will eventually find a way.
Great leaders never quit. That doesn’t mean that great leaders never revise their goals. We do. It rather means that great leaders do not confuse needs and strategies. If we desire to make life better for one and all, if we desire to satisfy those universal, life-giving needs, than leaders recognize there are many ways to get from here to there. Instead of becoming attached to a particular way of getting things done, great leaders take the tack: “However it happens, let’s keep trying until we find a way.”
And that persistence is often the key to success. It has been said that many people fail to realize their goals because they stop trying one moment too soon. If they had just come up with one more idea, and conducted one more experiment, they would have had a breakthrough. Instead, giving up altogether, they have the discouraging experience of watching their dreams go up in smoke.
Great leaders don’t let that happen. When experiments produce surprising or disappointing results, great leaders learn from those results, come up with new ideas, and test out new prototypes. One way or another, great leaders get things done and people appreciate the opportunity to share in that experience and energy.
Next week we’ll talk about the relationships leaders forge to get things done; for now, we simply lift up and celebrate the results-orientation that great leaders bring to the task at hand. In their presence, we become better people because we get swept up in the joy of getting things done.
Coaching Inquiries: What is your framework when it comes to your goals and desires? How optimistic, creative, and persistent are you? How could you strengthen those leadership muscles? What contribution could you make that would bring you the most amount of joy and fill you with the most amount of juice? Who could join you in that quest?
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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
Just read your Provision for this week and just re-read last week’s. The timing is uncanny! As I have been aware that I have lost hope and focus. Although I am not certain I would have been able to label it so specifically if not for your provisions. So thank you!!!
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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