by Glynn Cambre, Vice President, Vanguard Salon Systems, Inc. (Oct. 2009)

Ever since I made the choice (yes, it was a choice, more on this later) to take on a NEW Leadership role within my company, there have been questions that I have had and maybe you have had as well, that consistently crossed my mind. Questions such as:

What does it take to become a successful leader? Where do I begin when there are so many different areas of leadership that I need to develop?

In an effort to answer these questions, you may also find yourself (as I have) provoking other important questions: 

  • Am I leading by example and/or modeling the way?
  • Do the people I lead find me honest and trustworthy?
  • Do I consider myself forward-looking or visionary?
  • Do the people I lead find me inspiring?
  • Do I communicate with them clearly and precise?

In searching for the answers to these questions, you will begin a journey on the path to becoming what I’ve learned to be known as a Competent and Credible Leader. This means, as you gain increased competency and credibility in becoming a leader, you will also gain a more confident demeanor which will ultimately support you in commanding respect from your constituents. Once you arrive at this destination, your team will then have YOU as their leader.

However, in order to begin on your  leadership quest, I believe there are two components that everyone needs to make it a successful journey: Commitment and Personal Responsibility. If you want to be successful in your position as a leader, you must be committed to taking personal responsibility for yourself and your leadership development. Bud Bilanich, author of Your Success GPS, says this about personal responsibility:

"Personal responsibility means recognizing that you are responsible for your life and the choices you make."

The fact of the matter is, we are ALL leaders in life, whether you are a parent, spouse, hairdresser, trainer, business owner – the list is endless! The thing to remember is this: YOU are where you are because of the choices YOU have made. YOU were offered an opportunity or created an opportunity to lead others.  It is YOUR personal responsibility to follow through on that choice - to make a commitment to growing yourself as a leader. It is not up to your supervisor, the company your work for, or anyone else. It is up to…you guessed it…YOU!

One way to help grow yourself as a leader, according to one of my favorite books on leadership, “The Leadership Challenge” by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, is to commit to becoming a lifelong learner. Commit to leading yourself first!

Leadership development requires developing the self. Engineers have their computers; painters have their canvas and brushes; lumberjacks have axes; musicians have instruments; hairdressers have shears. But, LEADERS have only themselves. And, in order for your SELF to perform at it's best, just like the tools mentioned above, it must continually be sharpened, updated and improved upon on a regular basis.

The instrument of leadership is “the self”, and mastering the art of leadership comes from mastering the self. It’s about bringing out of your inner being what already exists but perhaps not known. It’s about liberating the leader within YOU. It’s about setting your SELF free and being open to the possibilities.

Learning to lead is about discovering what you care about and value the most. About what inspires you, what challenges you, and what gives you power and competence. Once you discover these things about yourself, then you’ll know what it takes to lead those qualities out of others, just like any extraordinary leader.

Have you ever seen the movie Ground Hog Day? The movie where actor Bill Murray lives the same day over and over again? That’s the way many people live their lives. They wake up and do the same things over and over – because that’s where they’re comfortable. It’s their “comfort zone”!  As leaders, we have too much potential to become bound to the “Ground Hog Day” way of life. Living in your “comfort zone” can be a definite enemy to your potential. Because when things change at work, this zone of comfort is no longer comfortable. And, if you make the choice to live there, you'll unfortunately find yourself in a situation where you won’t know what to do or where to go.

One of the first books I ever read on the subject of leadership was Monday Morning Leadership by David Cottrell. It taught me that in order to become the very best at what I do as a leader, you simply cannot allow yourself to become complacent in your comfort zone. To do this, you must continually reach for C.A.N.I – Constant And Never-ending Improvement. By doing so and moving OUT of your comfort zone, you begin the journey in becoming a life-long learner by moving INTO the “Learning Zone”, thus fulfilling your potential as an extraordinary leader.

In the Learning Zone, according David Cottrell, there are three areas or “rooms” that leaders can utilize to grow their skills:

  • The Reading Room
  • The Listening Room
  • The Giving Room

The Reading Room

In order to grow as a competent leader, you must make time for the Reading Room. There are more than a thousand books out there about management and leadership that offer the wisdom of the many authors who wrote them and share their many years of experience. You learn more by reading more. And by learning more, you can earn more.

Think of it this way: Suppose you read one book a month on leadership. Most books are between 12 and 20 chapters in length. If you read about half a chapter of a leadership book every day, which should take about 10 minutes or so, for a full year, you will potentially have read 12 books. Do you think you’d know more about leadership if you read about 12 books or more a year on the subject? Do you think you would feel more "competent" (and probably more confident) as a leader from reading this many books? For me, that would be an absolute YES!

However, I know what some of you are thinking. “Well, I don’t have the time to read, or the money to buy, that many books!” Think about this: to be the best leader you can be, can you afford NOT to take the time to buy and read books necessary to help grow to be the best?

But, the real question here is NOT about having the time or money. The question really should be, “Do you have the DISCIPLINE and COMMITMENT to set aside time every day to read and to become the best leader you can be?” Because we all know we can buy the books and plan to read them, but do we have the discipline and commitment to follow through.

The Reading Room will always be there for as long as you want to spend time in it. Set long term goals to achieve in this room. If you started now reading half a chapter a day of SELF help books, how many books do you think you will have read over the time span of your leadership career? For example, if you were to remain in your position or higher for another 15 years, at a minimum, you potentially could read over 180 books on the subject, making you a definite and competent expert. Make reading a good book daily a top priority!

The Listening Room

The next room for you to utilize in growing yourself as a leader is the Listening Room

FACT: The principle reasons executives or leaders fail are from arrogance, alter egos, and insensitivity in listening to others

It’s mainly because they forget to take the time to listen to their people. Eventually, they become insensitive to the needs and desires of the individuals on their team. Don’t allow yourself to fall into that trap – listen to your people!

To hone your listening skills (and if the Reading Room is just not for you) – try attending outside seminars, webinars and conferences where you can listen and learn. Any time you gather new information by listening, you can make better decisions. You can also learn to listen better by making better use of your time in your car and utilizing what Zig Ziglar referred to this time as Automobile University. The average person spends over 500 hours or more per year in their car. Try listening to a motivational or inspirational CD or Podcast. It will have a greater influence on you than listening to talk radio or music.

The Giving Room

The final, and probably the most important room in the learning zone, is the Giving Room. I believe you cannot succeed as a leader without giving back in some way, sharing your knowledge with others instead of taking it to your grave. There are reasons why hearses don’t have luggage racks!

Your legacy will be what your leave others. Be sure to teach others what you learn. Because the more you teach, the more accountable you will become to what you’re teaching. By modeling the way for others, you build your own credibility as a leader in the eyes of those you lead. I for one am learning this first hand as I continue to teach and learn with my own leadership team in my organization.

You know, it’s easy for us to agree that we need to become life-long learners. But unless you commit yourself to doing so, nothing is going to change. One way to make that commitment a reality is to set specific goals for improvement. Make them specific, measurable and obtainable. They can become the strongest force for self-motivation – they will be your track to keep you on course.

The unfortunate reality is that less than 5% of all people set specific goals and even fewer actually write them down. Why? For the other 95%, some reasons include not knowing the importance of setting them, not knowing how, being afraid of failure, but most importantly, it requires them to leave…you guessed it…their comfort zone.

By getting out of your comfort zone and becoming a goal setter and goal achiever, you can become a leader who has balance in your life. You will become a great role model for others to follow. And, people want to follow people who are balanced in all areas of life, not just work.

If becoming a successful leader is your goal and ultimate destination, then realize that YOU are personally responsible for your leadership journey, for where you are and for where you want to be. You made the CHOICE… NOW, take the responsibility and MAKE THE COMMITMENT!  

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