What does it take to be a leader? How do you know if you are a leader or a boss?
It’s all about relationships.
A boss tells people what to do and uses fear to motivate them. A leader identifies the needs of the organization and the people and invites people to work together. A successful leader does not have people afraid of him or her. There is no place for bullying in a leader.
Maria Montessori was a leader in the classroom. She revolutionized education when she declared children are eager to learn. She was given a classroom of 3-5-year-olds, who today would be called Special Needs children, and they outperformed all the “normal” classes. She taught that when children feel accepted, when their learning work is demonstrated and when they know they were not going to be criticized or ridiculed, they learned like blockbusters.
She looked at the whole child and modeled her faith in their curiosity and willingness to learn. She taught them to be leaders by her modeling.
We all have a strong need to feel a part of something, to feel accepted, to belong. A leader will look for ways to include the people they lead in decision making. A leader will look for strengths in their people that can be identified and valued, and a leader will exhibit a belief in their ability to learn and accomplish projects.
We all need to laugh and have fun. Maria Montessori was convinced that children wanted to learn and that learning is fun. As an adult, I studied American Sign Language. At first, I felt awkward and I didn’t think I could make my hands work that way, nor that I would be able to remember half of the signs I was being taught. As I gained a little skill, I felt a great sense of achievement and realized I was having fun.
A leader looks for ways to make learning new skills fun and to make it fun to achieve goals. Whomever you are leading, ask yourself, “Are we, as a group, having fun together? Is there a spirit of being lighthearted in our group? Or is everything terribly serious and scary?”
At one time, in my professional life, my mentor invited me to be a co-leader of a workshop with him as I arrived at the workshop. While flattered, I was also mildly terrified. He suggested that I lead the sections that he had seen me teach before, saying, “You know that better than I do.” Again, I felt reassured that I would survive. As we continued planning, I asked him, “Should I do it this way? Or would it be better if I did it this way?” and he responded, “I trust you.”
“I trust you,” is the most empowering phrase a leader can make. I have found myself saying it to anyone I supervised or collaborated with. Even if the actual result was not something I had expected, because I had developed a relationship and gave the other my trust, I discovered many new ways of getting things done.