by Glynn Cambre, Vice President, Vanguard Salon Systems, Inc.

Ever since I chose (yes, it was by choice, more on this later) to take on a leadership role within my company, there have been questions that I have, and maybe you have as well, consistently pondered:

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 my constituents find me honest and trustworthy?
  • Do I consider myself forward-looking or visionary?
  • Do my constituents find me inspiring?
  • Do I communicate clearly and precise?

In finding the answers to these questions, you will begin your journey down the path to becoming a Competent and Credible Leader. You will begin to notice as you gain increased competency and credibility, you will also gain a more confident demeanor which will ultimately command respect from your constituents. Once you arrive at this destination, your team will then have YOU as their leader.

However, before you embark on your quest, I believe there are two components that everyone in a leadership role needs in order to begin their 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. According to a recent book I read, Your Success GPS by Bud Bilanich,

"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, whether you are a parent, spouse, hairdresser, trainer, 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.  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!

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 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 yourself free. Learning to lead is about discovering what you care about and value most. About what inspires you, challenges you, 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.  As leaders, we have too much potential to become bound to the “Ground Hog Day” way of life. Your “comfort zone” can be a definite enemy to your potential. Because when things change at work, your comfort zone 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 to become the very best at what I do and that 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. Fulfilling your potential as a leader and becoming a life-long learner will require you to move out of your comfort zone and into the "Learning Zone".

In the Learning Zone, there are three areas or “rooms” that leaders can utilize:

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

The Reading Room

In order to become 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 good 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" as a leader from reading this many books? For me, that would be a yes!

However, I know what some of you are thinking. The question here is NOT about having the time or money. The question should be, “Do you have the DISCIPLINE or COMMITMENT to set aside time every day to read and to become the best at what you do?” Also, consider how long you plan to be in your current position or maybe even in a higher level position one day. If you started now reading half a chapter a day, how many books do you think you will have read over that time span? For example, if you were to remain in your position or higher for another 15 years, 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. It’s 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 (or if the Reading Room is not for you) – try attending outside seminars and conferences. 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 Automobile University. The average person spends over 500 hours or more per year in their car. Try listening to a motivational or inspirational CD. It will have a greater influence on you than listening to talk radio or music.

The Giving Room

The final and probably 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. 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.

Unfortunately, less than five percent of all people set specific goals and even fewer actually write them down. Why? For the other 95%, not knowing the importance of setting them, not knowing how, being afraid of failure, but most importantly, it requires them to leave 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 career, where you are and where you want to be. You made the CHOICE, now take the responsibility and MAKE THE COMMITMENT!  

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