The Structured Leader

As my kids have gotten bigger and begun playing around in the yard, it is a common thing to find them building something. Sometimes it’s a doll bedroom made from sticks and pieces of bark. Sometimes it’s a bow and arrow made from twine and a fallen branch. Sometimes it’s a fort made from logs they’ve stacked. My kids have Legos and Lincoln Logs and all kinds of connecting and building pieces they use to create wonderful new structures.

However, structural engineers they are not. Their doll houses have no roofs, their bows have no recoil and their forts are precariously balanced. They are building from their imaginations which are healthy and thriving, but they do not build wisely based on an understanding of what makes a good house or bow or fort. They just begin with their ideas and then end with something not at all practical (though fun for a time).

In the same way, leaders need to be made from the right stuff. If a person doesn’t start out made with the right materials she’ll end up a leader that is just as rickety and ramshackle as the stick forts my kids build.

We’ve all seen it, the guy in a leadership role liked by no one, respected by none and avoided by everyone. All his colleagues wonder how he got that job to begin with. He’s dishonest, he’ll throw anyone under the bus he can to avoid taking responsibility and he constantly tears others down subtly or explicitly.

It is people like this that cement the fact of leadership that character counts, not for just something, but character counts for everything. When the project isn’t going well, the rickety leader will deflect and blame others. When timelines aren’t being met, the rickety leader will put undue pressure on his employees. When things are going swimmingly, the rickety leader will take the credit, promoting himself and his role in accomplishing the goals it took a group to achieve. Poor character is like building a rickety fort from driftwood and fallen limbs. It’s still wood, but it will never match a framed house for strength and stamina.

So what are the components of strong character that make a structured leader? There are three.

1 – Resolve

When was the last time you successfully met a New Year’s resolution? Have you ever? I never have. That’s why I gave up trying to make changes based on the calendar. All the lasting changes I’ve made in my life have been because I made a decision to change what I was doing, how I was acting, what I was thinking NOW, not Monday, not the first of the next month, not New Year’s Day, NOW!

Resolve is drawing a line in the sand.

“No more!”

“I will do this, not that!”

Resolve is the determination to make a meaningful change or impact on the world (whether it’s the world inside us or outside us). You cannot make a change in the way you lead others without resolving to do so. Half-hearted change is demoralizing to those who follow you. You’re hard to keep up with. You’re impossible to please.

When you see changes that are worth making, begin with what’s achievable. Start small. Do you need to change the way you speak to others? Pick a person that is particularly difficult to treat well. Make a list of all the good things about them. Recite the list over and over to yourself. Do something different to change your attitude about that person that will change the way you act toward them.

Resolve is when our actions steer us to a destination. Without it, you’re a ship without a rudder.

2 – Consistency

Humans are creatures of habit. The question you have to answer is whether or not your habits are good ones. To be a structured leader you have to exhibit good habits. Good character flows from good habits. In the same way that good habits flow from good behavior. When we do the same thing long enough, we get used to doing it. We change our vocabulary to “we” instead of “I”.

“We did a good job.”

“We met our goals.”

“We’ll do better next time.”

“We’ll all learn from this and move on.”

If we take charge of our momentary circumstances, owning the little behaviors and words and attitudes that shape our day, we’ll see new patterns emerging from our lives. Where we see dysfunctional people, we’ll see inspired teams. Where we see struggle, we’ll see tenacity. Change your tomorrow by becoming consistent today.

3 – Integrity

Integrity is the gauge of a person’s behavior when no one is watching. When it’s late at night and you’re at a red light, do you drive through? Closer to the point, when no one else is around and you get kudos for a job well done and the project was done by someone on your team, do you give them credit?

The trouble is that we all tend to look out for ourselves. We want to be recognized for doing well. We want to be praised for good work. We want to avoid the pain of failure. So we shift the blame and keep the credit. How can that be?

If we’re to be people of influence, we should promote the kind of culture we want in our company. It starts with us as leaders. We have to stand up to take the heat when it comes or sit down to let the credit pass on to our team. As leaders, the team is our responsibility, their well-being, their recognition, their development. They have none of those when we’re in the way.

The change in our words will affect a change in our hearts and our minds. We’ll look at the world and the people around us differently. Instead of seeing people as means to our own ends, we’ll see them as ends in themselves.

What are you made of? Would others call you a person of integrity? Are you consistent? Are you a person of resolve? If not, chances are you’re a rickety leader. The good news is that you don’t have to stay that way. Choose today to lead differently. You’ll be glad you did and so will your team.

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