Why is it that some leaders excel, solve problems, inspire people, and make a difference? The answer to that question could fill an entire book. One thing I know for certain about effective leaders is that they are students of leadership. They seek to understand the nuances that separate leaders who make an impact from the ones who simply occupy a position. Let me share some personal observations about effective leaders:
- The know when to shut up. While I am being blunt with the first statement you can be assured that no offense is intended. This happens occasionally and I have no doubt that you have experienced it also. It happens when you have a lunch appointment or attend a meeting and quickly find out that the other person has a lot to say. He or she talks and talks and talks and you get the picture. They have been speaking four, six, eight minutes or more and you cannot get a word in edgewise. By saying “shut up,” I am not suggesting that you should not talk. I am reminding you that a discussion involves two or more people. Be sure that you listen as much as you talk whether meeting over a meal or around a conference table. Share the conversation and listen as much as you speak. That is what leaders do. Also, in larger settings, take note of the number of people present. Suppose you are in a thirty minute meeting and the leader asks everyone to weigh in on the topic. If ten of you are present, do the math. You should only take about three minutes or so. If six people take five minutes, you have bumped four others out of the conversation. One other point, you don’t always have to weigh in. I have noticed that if 100 people are present, you can count on one or two people to say something whether their comment has relevance or not.
- They know when to speak up. In reference to the first point, do not misunderstand. The point is not that you should never talk, but that you should be more strategic and purposeful about when you do and when you don’t. Always keep this in mind; silence is consent. It is not appropriate for a leader to go into a meeting, hear a proposal or a decision, remain silent, and then complain afterwards. Speak up if you do not agree. A leader is skilled at doing this. They know how to disagree without being offensive. While they may be passionate they are also measured, seek points of agreement, seek to characterize issues in a positive tone when possible, and attack the problems rather than people. While a skilled leader knows when to shut up, they never hesitate to speak up.
- They know when to speed up. Effective leaders do not tend to waste time. They move meetings along covering the material without wasted time. They will cancel a meeting from time to time and seek ways to communicate efficiently. Sometimes meetings can be done online, via email, or on a phone call with equal effectiveness to a live gathering. In addition, they keep things moving forward like projects, strategies, action plans, and team tasks. They serve as the engine driving the team forward by motivating, providing guidance, and ensuring accountability. If there were a pill that could be given to learn and apply “pace” in leadership, everyone would be a dynamic leader. There is no such pill. However, effective leaders are wise and know how to keep everything moving forward. They know when to speed up.
- They know when to back up. Leaders do not like to do this. But effective leaders are good because they are willing to do things they do not like to do. That is why some people never progress in their job or ministry. They do not like to give energy or time to things they do not like to do. A skilled leader is often ahead of his or her team, company, or congregation in terms of vision, knowledge, and desire to get to where the group needs to go. However, you do not move an organization forward by frustrating people. The skilled leader knows when to back up a step or two to get everyone on board. Sometimes the way forward is to back up a little bit.
Do you want to maximize your leadership? Know when to shut up, speak up, speed up, and back up. That is a small sampling of what separates great leaders from the rest of the pack!