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ACTUAL LEADERSHIP, PART II - Now that you are leading...where to?

Let's suppose that all the planets align correctly and you wake up on the correct side of the bed (most days) and you are becoming an Actual Leader. This is confirmed for you on a regular basis by people who genuinely smile when they see you coming and also smile and thank you when they depart your presence. Some of these people come to you out of the blue to bounce ideas off of you or report progress because they know that you appreciate it and that they are appreciated. You are even taking the time, as tedious as it is, to at least acknowledge emails and even respond to some of them in a timely manner. Your team is improving their performance because you have inspired them to do so. Feel good about yourself, you deserve it – just don't let it go to your head.

Now that you've got this inspiration thing down, now that you are cultivating followers, what is the extent of this new superpower? Given that your team is working smarter, is happier and is producing more - be it programs or widgets, or services. Your new skills are making a difference…..at work. For many of us, that is just enough. We decide to do what we need to and drive ourselves toward increasing our own paycheck and maybe, if we are truly sincere about being Actual Leaders, we try to do all that for the people who work for us and the people that we work for. It's all good, you've got talent, but it's all still….just at work. What about not "just at work"?

In his book, "Outliers", the 21st Century prolific author on where humanity meets business, Malcolm Gladwell (and that's my take on who he is) talks about what talent truly is. He concludes that talent, no matter how gifted, is all about hard work. What we are motivated (or inspired) to do because we love it, makes us do it a lot, and when we do something a lot (practice music, cook, read, write, play sports) we become really really good at it. In fact, he made popular the assessment in "The Cambridge handbook of expertise and expert performance" that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. Our Normal amount of hours at work in a given year (with an average of 8 holidays and another 2-4 weeks of vacation or sick time off, comes out to less than 2000 hours a year. So even if you were being an Actual Leader that entire time it will still, according to some, take you over 5 years to become an Actual Leadership Expert. But as I said in Part I, we are truly passively Actual Leaders in many other areas of our lives. Where can we get as much practice in as possible so that we can accelerate our rate of expert level acquisition of Actual Leadership?

This is where my discussions on Leadership meet up with a something else I have spoken about - Karma. When you have embedded Actual Leadership into your character it is time (many would argue that anytime is time) to put those skills to work to make the world a better place.

Yes, I am setting the high and lofty goal of making the world a better place. Many of you have heard numerous tales and anecdotes about how people do something small but it makes a big difference. In another discussion I relayed the story about the Sea Stars (check out my original blog site posting at randalllevinson.blogspot.com " Raise me up-Don't bring me down!") a case where someone was doing very little, but it was making a big difference to those he was doing it for. We can each take these newfound Actual Leadership skills and do amazing things with them. We can pick a cause that is important to us, and we can inspire people to do the same. We can make followers among the people whose lives we touch every day and we can help them understand and want to work with us to change the world.

I am not talking about starting a movement, nor am I getting on some high horse and trying to preach to you that you need to join me in some crusade. What I am saying here is that you WILL make a difference because it will serve you well. It will make you feel good; it will improve your view of the world and your place in it. It will be wonderful for you because you are practicing your skills; you are using those skills in excess of the minimal amount of hours it takes to gain the expertise. You are embedding it into your DNA so that you may becoome an expert.

There are some folks who, in their respective professions, roles, or offices, finally "got it" as far as Actual Leadership goes and made some game-changing or life-changing choices. One of my favorites in modern times is Warren Buffet (look him up if you want to know more about him). Mr. Buffet, the pre-eminent investor of our time, accumulated a significant amount of wealth. He had a foundation created in his name with every intention of leaving the bulk of his wealth, $44 Billion, to that foundation upon his death and he said as much in a New York Times interview in 1988 when he was a mere 58 years old. Then in 2006, he changed his mind. At the age of 76 and in relatively good health, it seems he decided, "Why wait until I die to be charitable?" Ok, he's been charitable all along, more than any of us could ever dream to be, but noiw he was talking about 85% of his fortune, over $37 Billion. He did not choose to transfer it to his own foundation; instead he decided that most of it would go to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Why? Because he was inspired by the mission and the vision that the Gates Foundation has. He was led there by an Actual Leader, his friend Bill Gates. This donation is one major step for Mr. Buffet in his efforts to become an Actual Leader outside his traditional comfort zone. This guy does not have the kind of experience parting with money that we do. His comfort zone is accumulating. So this is a major effort for him to move from his Actual Leadership role as an investor for profit, towards his new Actual Leadership role as a philanthropist .

We can go closer to the other end of the spectrum and look at the often claimed to be "inspiring" accomplishments of some one like Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer who seems to set another world record every time he touches water. Mr. Phelps is nothing short of amazing if not unbelievable. But is he doing the most with his Actual Leadership capabilities? Athletes who inspire other athletes or children to become athletes are definitely embarking down the Path of Actual Leadership. They have drive, interests, and are well able to inspire others. But do they take that to the next level and fold that Actual Leadership into the fabric of who they are as citiizens of the world like the rest of us? Often times they just come so close. For example, before the 2008 Olympic games Phelps' idol, Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe was quoted as saying that it was highly unlikely that Phelps could take home 8 gold medals. While Phelps used that info to inspire him to work harder, Thorpe missed the Actual Leadership opportunity. After Phelps won his eighth medal Thorpe was very congratulatory and proud of the accomplishment. But his public encouragement would have been even more inspiring before the games.

As far as athletes go my endorsement in this regard goes out Athletes for Hope (www.athletesforhope.org) as they are going outside their comfort zone, using the skills they developed as Actual Leaders in their chosen profession and working to make the world a better place.

Now, while you are may not be a high profile investor, nor is it likely that you are a world-class athlete, it is still possible for you to make a difference as an Actual Leader out in the world beyond your comfort zone. That's the karma connection – you get out of something what you put into it, so if you are getting a lot out of something you are obligated to put a lot back in. By doing this you will be able to bring others with you in your endeavors and show them what it means to turn their Actual Leadership into a renewable resource that can help create a sustainable future for everyone.

Summing up this topic here is what I want you to take away. First: Be an Actual Leader, not just a manager. Second, inspire others to do the same and recognize that we can all become Actual Leaders in ways we have not even dreamed of. Third, get out there and practice, practice, practice, so that you can become an expert at Actual Leadership.

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Comment by Charles Van Heerden on September 29, 2009 at 2:31am
Thanks for part 2 Randy. To me the real test of leadership is what followers say and do when the leader leaves the room, having been on top teams since the age of 26. A lot of coaching has followed such meetings. I think a lot of recruiters carry a leadership flag - to inspire candidates to aim for their ideal job, to take the time and invest in enduring relationships, to give honest feedback and encourage further personal development.

Personally, I have at least one active pro bono coaching assignment at any time, that I treat no different to any of my other clients. It is all about pay it forward.

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