Effective leadership is a transformational journey made up of four “spheres of influence.” These are self leadership, one-on-one leadership, team leadership and organizational leadership.
Picture a target with three concentric circles around a bull’s-eye. The bull’s-eye in the middle — self leadership — is the heart of the four spheres. It comes first because effective leadership starts on the inside.
Most of us have heard flight attendants say that in an emergency you should secure your own oxygen mask before helping others. In a similar vein, before you can hope to lead anyone else, you first must know yourself and what you need to be successful.
Effective self-leaders challenge their own assumed constraints — their beliefs, based on past experiences, that limit current and future experiences. They also know how to tap into their five points of power — position, personal, task, relationship and knowledge — when necessary. Finally, they are proactive in asking their manager for the right amounts of direction and support. Self-leaders aren’t afraid to take initiative and state what they need to succeed in achieving their goals.
Once a person has the perspective to know how to lead themselves, they are ready to lead someone else. The key to successful one-on-one leadership is the ability to develop a trusting relationship with another person. If you know your strengths and weaknesses and are willing to be vulnerable, you most likely will be able to build trust between yourself and someone you lead — a must when working together.
When the leader extends trust first, it encourages a direct report to behave in a trustworthy manner. As time goes by, trust grows between the two whenever either side offers support, keeps their word, expresses appreciation or exhibits other trusting behaviors that lead to goal accomplishment. This may not be the same as advice you would have received when command-and-control leadership was the rule.
Back then, it was frowned upon for leaders to get too close to their people. Managers were told if they became friends with their direct reports it would get in the way of decision-making. Today we know that’s just not true.
Once you have fostered a trusting relationship with your direct reports, you are ready to lead a team. Team leadership is all about team development and building a community. We live in teams. Our organizations are made up of teams. The percentage of time we spend in team settings — project teams, work groups, cross-functional teams, virtual teams and management teams — is ever-increasing.
Effective leaders working at the team level realize they must honor the power of diversity among team members. Differences in cultural backgrounds, a variety of life experiences, and diverse perspectives and opinions can be catalysts for tremendous innovation. Leaders also must acknowledge the power of teamwork: Working together, a team can make better decisions and solve more complex problems than the same number of individuals working alone.
One of my favorite sayings is, “None of us is as smart as all of us” — and that is never more true than when describing an engaged, empowered team.
Leaders who have proven they can develop and lead teams successfully are ready for the final stage in a leader’s transformational journey: organizational leadership. Whether you can function well as an organizational leader — someone who leads more than one team — depends on the perspective, trust and community gained during the first three stages of your transformational journey.
The key to developing a high-performing organization is creating an environment that values both relationships and results. Great relationships with poor financial performance won’t result in a long-lasting organization. Likewise, an organization that gets great results but has a lot of infighting and gossip will also be short lived. Why? Because without good relationships the high performers will leave, which will affect the bottom line. Both relationships and results are necessary for a thriving, high-performing organizational culture.
One of the primary mistakes leaders make today is spending time and energy trying to improve things at the organizational level before ensuring they have adequately addressed their own credibility at the self, one-on-one and team leadership levels. Mastering one sphere of influence at a time helps you develop the skills, perspective and experience you need to be a fully realized servant leader.