“You did not learn to be a leader; you are a leader.” – Arthur Cummins, Follow The Leader
In many ways, Arthur Cummins had it right. There are natural-born leaders, and then there are followers, neither of which is better or worse than the other. I have met many people who simply do not have it in them to lead because they do much better under the instruction of others. Likewise, I have friends who would rather set their hair on fire than fall into line behind another person.
It is possible, however, to learn leadership skills and effectively make yourself into a leader. If you are teachable and patient, and if you have the desire, then anything is possible. Don’t worry if you have been a follower all your life; it is entirely possible that you simply have not risen out of your shell yet.
There is nothing more uncomfortable than being thrust into a leadership position when you have no idea what you’re doing or where to go. Leadership skills are developed over time, and if you are in a hurry, a crash course is the best you can do. It must suffice, because people are depending on you, and your job or your family or a cause you support is counting on you to see it through.
There are two very different types of leadership: one is children, and the other is adults. Believe it or not, leading children and teenagers is much different than leading adults; preimposed stigmas on either age group makes the establishment of your position extremely different. With children, a certain amount of respect has already been instated by your age difference. In the case of adults, however, your mind and your communication skills will determine whether or not you maintain a following.
We’ll start small. Let’s say that a neighbor rushes to your house one afternoon and tells you that there’s been a family emergency. She needs someone to watch her five children while she takes care of the situation, and will you please come over for a few hours until she returns.
You panic. You have virtually no experience with children – especially five of them – but you want to help out your neighbor because she brings you pecan pie every Thanksgiving, and it’s the best you’ve ever tastedÃ¢Â?Â¦and, of course, you want to help someone out when they’re in such obvious need.
First of all, this isn’t quite the crisis situation you imagine. Watching five children for a few hours isn’t all that difficult; it isn’t as though she’s asking you to adopt them. Take a deep breath, tell her that you’ll be over as soon as you get your things, and go phone the hubby to tell him where you’ll be.
The first rule of watching children is the same as when you ride a horse: don’t let them sense your fear! I know it sounds corny, and you just might stop reading this article because of that sentence, but I swear on pecan pie that it’s true. Children know when they can take advantage of an adult, and they are just devious enough to play on your greatest weakness. So here’s your first task: Be Confident.
March over to your neighbor’s house with a smile on your face and a spring in your step; ring the doorbell and wait for the reply as if this is something that you do on a daily basis. If the mother answers, then that is fine, but if a child answers, be just as polite: “Hi, I’m here to watch you guys while your Mom runs an errand. Can I come it?”
Depending on the age of the children, your duties will fluctuate. An infant will need almost constant care, a toddler will want you to play with him the entire afternoon; a grade-school-age child will do their own thing unless you solicit their involvement; a pre-adolescent will stick with his or her own thing because they are just realizing their own independence; and you probably won’t need to do much watching with a teen. Since there are five children in this scenario, we’ll say that you have one of each.
The Infant: You don’t need to establish leadership or respect with an infant, but you do need to juggle the infant’s care with the watching of the other children. Find out if the infant can take a nap while the mother tends to her business; this is the easiest way to narrow down your duties.
The Toddler: Immediately ask to see his or her favorite toy. While he or she runs off to the playroom, meet the other children. During the course of your afternoon, you will probably be playing with this child quite often, unless they are super-independent and can amuse themselves. By asking to see his or her favorite toy, you’ve already established some level of respect.
The Grade-School Child: Ask them what they did in school today, find out what kind of animals they like, or ask to see artwork from class. This age child will give you their respect if you express interest in the things that they like. Talk to them as though they were regular adults, and don’t worry if they misunderstand you. You can probably busy this child with arts and crafts or a board game for the afternoon. Coloring books are your new best friends.
The Pre-Adolescent: Children in junior high are typically very independent, and will only ask you for something if they need it. If their mother wants them to stay in for the afternoon, let them watch television or do homework. Your level of involvement doesn’t need to be too high. But if he or she challenges you on anything, put your foot down immediately. You are the adult, and what you say goes. You don’t have to be rude about it, just firm.
The Teenager: Again, there isn’t a very high level of involvement here. Teenagers are extremely independent, and will respect your talking to them like adults. Don’t let them get away with doing something that their mother forbade, but don’t treat them like children, either.
The key to establishing leadership and respect in children is playing the part of an adult, which you are! If you remember that you are in charge, and you exude that in your actions in words, then you shouldn’t have a problem.
And no matter the age of the child, whether a toddler or a teenager, kids respect people who are honest and candid. Don’t speak to them as though they have no opinions or feelings; pretend that you are talking to fellow adults in conversation, and find out what they think and feel.
Obviously, adults are different. There isn’t a built-in level of respect because you and your ‘followers’ are on equal footing. The only real tools left at your disposal are your mind, your ideas, and your ability to gain interest in what you say. If you can’t utilize those tools effectively, then someone else will end up running the show.
There is a myriad of venues for which you might need to establish leadership. In the home, in the workplace, at church, during private functionsÃ¢Â?Â¦wherever you are, the rules are the same, and you might as well come to grips with that fact.
When trying to gain interest in a particular cause or idea, then your best bet will be public speaking. If the thought of talking in front of a crowd makes you want to lose your breakfast, then you may be incapable of performing this particular task, even if the entire audience is in their underwear. But if you feel that you are able to stand in front of a crowd and speak your mind, then this is an invaluable tool.
First, make sure that you have a speech prepared. Jumping to the microphone with no cohesive thoughts or ideas will cause confusion among your audience and a general lack of interest. People don’t want to hear a jumble of thoughts and ideas sputtered at random; they want to hear a smooth, well-thought-out speech that lists the facts point-by-point.
When writing the speech, always consider your audience before you generate even one word. If you are talking to a group of NRA fanatics, for instance, your speech will read differently then if you are talking to people who rally against the private possession of guns. Even if your audience isn’t politically or religiously inclined, you should still have an idea of who you are talking to. Consider age, nationality, gender, and intelligence.
Next, get your most influential point out first. Start with an eye-opener that will capture your audience’s attention and leave them wanting to hear more. Let your first point leave questions in their minds: where is she going with this? What is her stance? How does this affect me? The more your audience wonders, the more they will listen to subsequent points.
As you continue with your speech, increase your credibility by stating the findings or words of legitimate sources. If you are speaking about gun laws, for instance, cite statistics for accidental shootings from a national survey. Do your research before you even begin to write, because it is guaranteed that people will ask. If you don’t know your material, respect will be lost from the get-go.
At the conclusion of your speech, leave time for questions from your audience. Be professional in your answers – even if they make you angry – and try not to offend any of the audience members. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so! Making up information will be detrimental to your cause further down the line.
If you have been asked to teach a class on a particular topic, then you will of course need to establish leadership. The members of an adult class are harder to teach than those of children and teenagers, and you will have to establish right away that you are an authority on the subject.
If you have published articles, essays, or journal articles on the subject, bring them with you, or at least refer to them during class. Like with Public Speaking, it will establish credibility and demand respect.
The good thing with an adult class is that the students will probably not challenge you as a teenager might. Even if an adult student has a problem with something you teach, they will probably have the decency to keep it to themselves. If, however, someone begins to create a problem, you are completely within your right to politely ask him or her to leave.
Oftentimes, a supervisor will select a group of employees to work on a particular project, and will assign one person the job of Team Leader. If that person happens to be you, then be prepared to delegate duties and act as the final say on difficult decisions.
With work projects, chances are that your colleagues already know you, and therefore have predisposed ideas of how you work. This can be both good and bad; if your colleagues like and respect you, your job will be easy; if they don’t, then you will have to work a little bit harder.
First of all, you have to remember that this isn’t about making friends. If you disagree with someone, or if you don’t like the way a discussion is headed, stop it before it gets out of hand. You are in charge, and it is your responsibility to make those decisions. Keeping the other team members in line is your primary responsibility, and you should take it seriously.
If you suddenly find that you have been promoted at work into a position of authority, you might feel overwhelmed. Being your first managerial position, you will learn quite a bit as you go, making mistakes and troubleshooting where you went wrong.
One of the most difficult aspects of an intra-office promotion is that your former colleagues are now your inferiors. They answer to you, and might view you differently. That’s OK. You should view them differently as well because they answer to you, and because you are responsibly for their productivity.
Don’t let the friendship of colleagues get you down, and don’t let your friends sway you into taking sides. It is imperative that you remain professional, and you can’t do that by taking sides.