On May 27, 2017, I was among thousands of British Airways passengers at London Heathrow airport whose flights were canceled due to system failures. Travelers looked relaxed as airport and British Airways officials managed the situation in the first couple of hours. As a life-long student of practical leadership, I began to observe who was leading and how they were handling this situation. For two days, I watched confusing information management as signs of agitation began to increase amongst the tired travelers. Real leadership was lacking. To be fair, no one could have been prepared enough for this challenge, but leaders ought to be ready for the unforeseeable. Leadership is a lifestyle, not a transaction. Great leaders are known for how they manage the insurmountable. They innovate, influence and inspire others to achieve positive outcomes.
For the letter 'I' of the leadership alphabet, I will focus on qualities or 'verbs' that are not so obvious to the bystander but drive leaders to success. Good leaders are people-centered. Compare that to the deadly disease of 'fallen leaders' who all too often prioritized the quest for titles, fame, and self-preservation. Leaders lead people to make things happen—wherever they are and in whatever dilemma they find themselves.
'I' is for Influence
Leadership is influence—for good or ill. Good leaders inspire and rally for a good cause. They emanate positive vibes and invigorate people around them. Influence is not coercion or simply demanding. It grows from the matrix of trust, genuine care and a life of gratitude. Those leaders know that to lead people is to first love them for who they are. Good influence engenders trust and loyalty. Do you think people trust your leadership? You can know by just observing if they feel connected to you and your mission. Values and exuberance attract, whereas angry leaders repel. Be genuine, and you will inspire and attract talent. Those who feel trusted by you will, in turn, trust you. Leaders influence for good or bad each day. Self-awareness is necessary to deal with personal issues and cultivate a positive spirit in a team. Those who count you worthy will lend you their trust; they will give you a place in their hearts and perceive you as a human being capable of some mistakes. Let integrity count. Be accessible, modest and diligent, and people will want to follow your lead.
'I' is for Imagine
Leaders who dream are the ones who see dreams fulfilled. A leader is not only an initiator or entrepreneur, but he/she must also be a dreamer. The ability to practice dreaming or creative imagination is what turns impossibilities to possibilities. It sees in the mind through images what is possible and works towards its realization. It is what allows the woodcarver to carve a beautiful object in a log before making it happen. An artist friend once told me about the brilliant images he sees in his mind before he starts painting. He sees beauty, yet he perfects the details in the actual painting. Imagine what you could do, then start working on how you can realize the dream. Imagine success for the future instead of devoting your energy to the woes of the past. Imagine what you as a person or your company could become in ten years, and you will find the motivation to wake up and go to work every day.
'I' is for Innovate
Leaders who are content with the status quo are only good at managing stagnation. It does not take too long to see a downward slide on their watch. Passion for innovation is the oxygen that keeps creative workers alive. The motto of the state of New Hampshire—'Live Free or Die'—reminds me of a powerful lesson in leadership. When new voices or ideas are not heard, and creativity becomes a threat to an insecure leadership, the ultimate result is decline. Innovate or die! The twenty-first-century workplace must be a place where diversity is appreciated and engaged. To innovate the genitor and the manager must be encouraged to explore new ways to accelerate growth and maximize productivity. Fear is the greatest obstacle to innovation. The youth of today are creative. They know more about the needs of their peers than the manager who invokes experience to silence new ideas. To innovate is a proactive gesture and team endeavor for purpose-driven leaders.
What new things can you do with what you have to maximize returns? Who is being left out of your production or distribution outlets? Why do you exist and how long can you go on in this way? Will you innovate or will you allow the hurricane of change to crash your organization? The more diversity you have—age, gender, race—the better the prospects of real innovation.
'I' is for Incubate
Great leaders are often pregnant with ideas, dreams, and visions for the opportune time of delivery. Companies that thrive have secret projects under exploration and development. Dreams for success begin with a vision for what the end product will look like and a readiness to explore viable ways to make things happen. Incubation may take the form of research and development (R&D) to test the effectiveness or success potential of an idea. To incubate, one must grasp the notion that the moment a woman becomes pregnant is not the same as the moment of delivery. There are nine months of growth for the unborn baby and nine months of discomfort and physical changes for the woman. You cannot grow products, values, and competencies for which you are not prepared to invest. Be ready to do the hard work behind the scenes to transform ideas into products. Explore various ways. Expect to pay the cost of some failure before reaping a great harvest. Diligence and discipline are pillars behind great achievers. Too many leaders want to benefit from what they have not sown, but true leaders know that seeds need to germinate and grow in fertile soil to bear good fruit.
'I' is for Inspire
Erratic leadership create stress and diminishes morale. Inspired team members almost always give more than they take. Finding the best in yourself and sharing the best you see in others harnesses enthusiasm. In the words of Emerson, "enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success… Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic, be enthusiastic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm." A superficial public image and inspiration are not the same. Inspiration is a force, a drive and the inner voice that generates excitement and exuberance. It manifests passion and enthusiasm for personal growth, hard work, and appreciation for others. True inspiration is rooted in gratitude. People will work for less if they are happy to work for you. Inspiration is not what you think is happening in your team, but how your team members feel about their leader and workplace.
The world would be a better place, and Christian leaders would make more impact if we understood that much of what we know about leadership stems from who we are as followers of Christ—a leader like no other. That the people we lead are God's creatures deserving our love and sympathy. That the talents in our team are God's gifts to be cultivated and enhanced for meaningful contributions to God's world. Let leaders lead. So help us, God!