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5 Ways To Become a Better Leader…Today

Sometimes leadership can seem so overwhelming.

In reality, though, leadership is simpler than it first appears.

In many ways, great leaders master some very basic things that other people miss. The advice in this post is so simple you might be thinking “well, my mother used to tell me to do that”.

Maybe that’s the point.

You can have a PhD in leadership and read everything there is on leadership and still not be effective.

And yet there are leaders who have little formal education but who lead powerfully and effectively every day.

Often, these leaders gain influence because they’ve mastered a few basic skills others miss.

Here are 5 of my absolute favourite basic leadership skills that are far too easy to overlook.

Own them, and you’ll become a much more effective leader.

1. Make Someone Else The Hero

Few of us have a healthy relationship with ourselves.

The narcissists make it all about them.

Insecure people focus on themselves because they can’t bear to give anyone else air time.

And even people who lack confidence can end up being selfish because their lack of self-esteem means no one else gets attention.

How do you escape the trap of narcissism, insecurity or low self-confidence?

Just make someone else the hero.

If you’re a preacher, like me, make sure you point to God, not to yourself when you speak. Worry more about whether people connect with God than whether they connect with you.

What else does this principle look like?

Well, if you’re a writer, make your reader the hero. The filter through which I try to run every post I write on this blog is what I call a “helpful” filter. I want the post to help you as a reader. I want you to win.

Think about it. You and I love leaders who point beyond themselves to someone else. Why not be that leader?

So when you struggle with narcissism, insecurity or low self-confidence (and we all do…me too), step aside and make someone else the hero.

It works. Every time.

2. Do What You Say You’re Going To Do When You Say You’re Going To Do It

If there’s one piece of advice I want my sons to remember, other than everything I taught them about Jesus, it’s this:

Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it.

It puts you ahead of about 99% of the planet.

Think back on your last week. Who frustrated you most? Probably the people who didn’t do what they said they were going to do when they said they were going to do it.

Now picture the people you lead. Who are you most likely to promote, reward or even want to hang out with? The people who do what they say they’re going to do when they say they’re going to do it.

Doing what you said you were going to do when you said you were going to do it is the basis of trust. It’s also the basis for confidence.

Hey…sometimes I’m still the guy who didn’t do what he said he was going to do when he said he was going to do it. But I try so hard not to be that guy.

So what do you do if you struggle in this area? Just stop promising and start delivering.

When your walk catches up to what your talk would have been, reintroduce your talk.

3. Focus On Outcomes

Also in the ‘please stop driving me nuts’ category are people who focus on process, not outcomes.

I realize it’s axiomatic these days to say the journey is more important than the destination. But not always. Really. Come on. What fun is the journey if you end up nowhere with any meaning?

It’s frustrating when you ask someone if something is done and they tell you

Well, I emailed him.

She never got back to me.

I’ve called 5 times.

I think they must have changed their address or something.

And they feel like the project is complete because they tried.

Trying isn’t the same as doing.

Often, I feel like saying “You didn’t hear the question. The questions is Is it done?

A few years ago, I started encouraging the leaders I work with to stop focusing on process, and start focusing on outcomes.

When you focus on outcomes, you eventually stop emailing someone who never returns emails and you text them instead, or call them, or go to their office, or release them and find someone who will help you get the project done.

If you focus on outcomes, you’ll also have a shot at mastering #2. If you don’t, you never will.

And getting things done actually makes the journey more enjoyable, at least in my view.

4. Look People In The Eye

Sure, this is an “I don’t need a blog post to remind me of this”. (So is the next point, by the way.)

But do you ever notice how hard it is to actually look someone in the eye—to make them the sole focus on your attention?

I’m pretty sure I’m ADD and it’s so hard for me not to focus on shiny objects, moving parts or anything else in the room. Or my phone for that matter.

But the most effective leaders always look someone in the eye.

Sometimes I’m in a conversation with someone and I’ll create a voice in my head that just keeps repeating “Look them in the eye…look them in the eye.” It helps.

I’ll even position myself in a restaurant or coffee shop so I face a blank wall, not the door or a TV. Otherwise, I just instinctively look at whatever is moving.

Watch for it…the very best leaders look you in the eye and make you the sole focus of their attention.

Practice that this week.

5. Smile

Everyone has a default expression. It’s hard to know what yours is because you never see yourself as others see you.

I learned years ago that my default facial expression is…uptight. If I’m having a good time, I apparently forgot to tell my face.  I’m also a fast walker, so I tend to look uptight and annoyed.

How’s that for a guy who’s leading you?

People have given me very helpful advice like walk slowly across the room and smile. 

I know that’s so basic, but remember, you’re programming against your default here, so it’s not easy.

I have to remind myself to smile when I teach, to smile when I greet people and to smile in conversations.

It makes a huge difference.

Apparently Michael Hyatt has a similar issue and in this post outlined 5 positive impacts of smiling more as a leader.

So smile. 🙂

What Would You Add?

So that’s my short list of ultra simple leadership hacks. What are some you’d add to the list?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

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9 Comments

  1. Scott Button on July 16, 2017 at 7:29 pm

    Make someone else the hero. A great axiom. I try to do that but the phrase that I keep in my head is “remain humble, don’t look for credit”. Which is hard for me as my love language is words of affirmation. Being humble is more important than being skillful I have found. Think abut yourself. who do you trust more. The high capacity person who is all ego or the average Jo who walks humbly before God? 4 years ago I went from being a solo pastor and senior pastor for over 20 years to a 2IC. It is great way to grow in humility and learn a lot about yourself.

  2. Linda on July 16, 2017 at 4:48 pm

    As an educator, I’ve discovered that Focus on Outcomes sometimes needs to get pushed down on the priority list to allow for more intentional Listening, Looking in the Eye, and Smiling. Building relationship with students means they need to know that I care about WHO they are as well as WHAT they can do. Following that, they also learn that I’m focused on Outcomes and Doing what you said you were going to do. When things get tense or intense in the classroom, I remind myself that it’s also time to Smile and laugh together. It’s amazing how much more the Outcomes are met when the classroom is also a place of comfort and understanding.

  3. Will on July 15, 2017 at 4:40 pm

    I lead in a small church setting, and I find that my influence is increased when I do the little things better. Texting encouragement to people throughout the week. Dropping kids a card when they are in the paper for sports/academics. Calling older members just to check in. Letting people who are struggling know I am in prayer for them. I realize this model doesn’t scale for one person (Carey has written about that truth a lot), but I do think that you can develop a congregational culture of kindness and thoughtfulness. I appreciate the encouragement church members share with me, and I try to lead in this area as well. Being nice is sometimes a lost art in leadership. As leaders, we need to remember we are leading individual people and not just faceless numbers. When we make it about service (to Christ and our people), we strengthen our leadership.

  4. Tiger Gordon on July 15, 2017 at 10:04 am

    I appreciate the ways that God uses you to so many of us grow as leaders. All of your points are spot on. I work with our church’s men’s ministry and am the chair of the science division at my small university. As I have more opportunities to work with people, God has been teaching me that along with looking people in the eye I need to really listen to what they are saying. Far too often as I listen to others my focus is on formulating a response rather than hearing what they are saying and growing in relationship with them. If my focus is just on responding, I only hear a portion of what they are saying and may miss the point all together.

  5. Jane on July 14, 2017 at 3:03 pm

    As a female in a male-dominated ministry, I have strived to practice all five of these principles, but have not been recognized as a leader because of my gender. It would be very helpful for me to read some material aimed at men and women encouraging them in their leadership roles to intentionally acknowledge contributions being made by women.

  6. Jeff on July 14, 2017 at 2:43 pm

    Sometimes #3 & #5 are challenging to pull off at the same time. “Focus” can be intense and “outcomes” demand decisive action. I normally smile, but when a job needs to be done I get in “task mode” which means walking fast and the not “happy” look (not necessarily angry, just not the normal smile). This has gotten me in trouble with my senior pastor before. Any pray practical suggestions for overcoming this challenge?

  7. Mindy on July 14, 2017 at 8:49 am

    Know your source of value. Be confident in Christ knowing that he already is victorious. This is what helps me to not make it about me. If my value is deeply rooted in Jesus then I won’t become obsessed with popularity. And know your purpose and motivation. Remember why God placed you where you are and why he gave you the gifts, talents and passions to lead in that position. Sometimes simply remembering the Why helps me to refocus. And of course, I can’t do any of this without staying connected with God and seeking him everyday.

  8. Misty on July 14, 2017 at 6:50 am

    This is such a great piece, Carey! I hope to always remember try and practice “Believe the best in people.” We are all wired differently (fearfully and wonderfully made). Even in differences of opinions, actions etc, to believe the best. Thanks for all you do to help people lead well.

  9. Josh Catania on July 13, 2017 at 7:22 am

    I’ve definitely had to work on number five myself. Coming from an incredibly fast-paced environment that could easily become tense, I was surprised to learn how smiling can defuse panic and calm people down, including for myself.

    I initially started working on smiling and talking at the same time to be more welcoming from stage and it organically became a part of my everyday. Now it’s a become a tool in my leadership utility belt that helps me connect better to people.

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