Leave a Legacy: How to Grow Into a Leader

February 11, 2014 08:51 PM
Kevin Spafford

Instead of a dad calling, this time it was a son calling to say he’d had enough of his dad telling him that he wasn’t ready to take over the business. It was clear he was fed up.

When I pressed for details, the caller became agitated, exclaiming: "As soon as Dad puts me in charge, I’ll exer­cise my authority. Until then, I’ll act like all the other employees."

A problem often seems obvious to everyone except oneself. A person doesn’t lead by some anointed authority. A person leads with actions.

Football coach Vince Lombardi said: "Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all-the-time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all the time." Leadership is no different. It’s not a sometime thing; it’s an all-the-time thing.

Leadership might be as simple as being the first to step forward to tackle a tough situation or staying late to solve a difficult problem. It is demonstrated first by supporting the initiatives of other leaders.

Actions always speak louder than words, and leaders must make sure their actions reinforce the behavior, attitudes and aptitudes they want others to follow.

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All leaders are learners first. Leaders commit to a written plan for leadership development that helps them grow in their profession and increase their capabilities. Although there is no single prescription, a properly designed plan should include measurable goals.

The process usually begins with an evaluation to benchmark your current skill level. The plan should include components to improve education and increase experience. It should rely heavily on mentor/protégé relationships. It should be suppor­ted by a communication stra­tegy that allows you to share your new skills and abilities. Here are several examples:

1.Measurable goals. People respond to goals. We’re wired to reach for the next step. To do so, we must set goals that are specific and include a time frame for completion. In leadership development, the goal might be complex and time-consuming, such as earning a new degree or achieving a certain level of financial success. Whatever it is, don’t make it too safe, and allow yourself space for a noble failure.

2.Education. School doesn’t stop when you receive a diploma. People are better prepared for life in the real world if they assume that a college degree is a license to learn. A professional leader makes himself ready for anything by continuously learning and growing a reservoir of capabilities through education, inside and outside the traditional classroom.

3.Experience. You can’t learn to walk without falling down; you can’t learn to run without skinning your knees. In these cases, it isn’t the failure you focus on, but rather, the success.

In a leadership development plan, however, commitment to a variety of experiences (things you do or try as you develop the capacity to lead) promotes the learning process and teaches multiple lessons. Failure is rarely fatal, but the lessons of success and failure are critical to leadership development.

4.Mentor/protégé relationship. Nothing teaches like experience. Yet an effective—if underused—way is to learn from those who have "been there and done that." Asking a senior-level person to act as your mentor and help guide your decisions is an excellent way for both of you to grow professionally. Include regular visits, informal conversations and homework assignments based on specific goals for professional and business growth. The best relationships are
between unrelated parties.

To assess the strengths and needed growth of potential leaders, visit www.farmjournallegacyproject.com/leadership_skills

As Farm Journal’s succession planning expert, Kevin Spafford breaks down the complexity  of the process to help farm families cultivate multigenerational success. Contact Kevin:

E-mail: legacyproject@farmjournal.com

Website: farmjournal.com/leave_a_legacy

Facebook: www.facebook.com/FJLegacy

Twitter: @FJLegacyProject

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