You know you have good ideas and you’ve always wanted to use them to help other people.
Maybe you want to run for political office or roll up your sleeves in your local school. Perhaps you have a way with words and you want to offer up petitions and letters to the editor about issues in your community that you know need to change.
But there’s one problem.
You’re struggling to find people who will back you up. Maybe you feel like your ideas keep petering out on the runway and you start doubting yourself. It’s discouraging. You know that if you could just get a handful of people to support your idea, it would launch.
For a moment, your imagination soars as you see yourself in office, on the school board, in the newspaper—the proud victor or change-maker!
But then you snap out of your daydream and realize you’re still sitting at your desk, all alone with your idea again, and you’re not really sure where to turn next.
Leadership is the skill you must have for your ideas—your vision—to launch. Your great vision for the future will crumble if it’s not catalyzed by leadership.
Maybe, like me, you’ve wondered, “What exactly is leadership? Do I have what it takes to be a leader? How do I cultivate leadership skills?”
Kevin Kruse for Forbes says Leadership is “not [simply] authority or power… Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.” Take a moment to absorb the three-part aspect of this definition.
Leadership doesn’t mean you’re good at giving orders to other people. It means you’re good at collaborating and helping others use their efforts on behalf of your idea—to achieve your vision!
1. It begins with you
Before you can expect to carry out successful social influence around your vision, you have to evaluate yourself—your character— including your strengths, weaknesses, and how you can build your skills to be more well-rounded.
Last year we spoke to Robbie England, who has served on God’s Bible School and College’s Board of Trustees for 21 years. “I think leadership starts with a personal commitment to living a life of integrity and to knowing who you are,” he told us.
It is also important to be aware of your skills—and your skills gaps.
According to Indeed.com, “Leadership is not just one skill but rather a combination of several different skills working together. Some examples of skills that make a strong leader include:
- Active listening
- Effective feedback
- Timely communication
- Team building
- Ability to teach and mentor”
Identify which skills you already have, and always be aware of how you can put yourself in situations to challenge—and thereby improve—them. Growth is a muscle that has to be stretched to get stronger.
Not sure where your blind spots are? Ask for help. It’s essential to “[recognize] what you don’t have and get people around you to help you fill those spots,” Robbie says.
2. Social Practice
That’s where the second step towards building better leadership skills comes in.
Robbie’s wife, Rachel England—former school board member in Pennsylvania—asserts that a critical foundation of leadership is relationship building. “I think if you don’t have those relationships and you don’t build that foundation [for leadership], you can’t have the vision. I know people who start with a vision, but they don’t have those relationships founded very well. It does not work.”
You guessed it. The vision crumbles without necessary relationships—you lose the momentum of “social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others” as Kevin Kruse’s definition of leadership phrases it.
One way to practice building relationships and foundational leadership skills is to “take on more responsibility,” says productivity company Wrike. That could look like doing “more than simply what’s covered in your job description….”
Another smart way to build relational skills is to look for team volunteering opportunities and dive in. According to Cydcor, “When teams volunteer, they unite behind a shared vision and commit, as a team, to shared goals.”
As you practice working with others and uniting behind that shared goal, you can revisit your vision with a fresh perspective and get to work on launching it!
3. Define your goals
Sometimes your idea is so grand that you lose sight of what you’re actually trying to accomplish. One thing leads to another, and pretty soon you’re ready to take on the whole world!
And maybe you will one day. But to make real progress, you have to focus on your world for now.
“Goals are important because they help leaders decide what their priorities should be,” says Indeed. Once you have done the work and put in the time to build relationships and have a network of supporters, you must “create goals with your team in mind,” concludes Indeed.
If you, the leader, don’t have a goal for your team, “then you’re just a good group of people who are moving together and enjoying life. But if you have a vision that drives you—that’s well-articulated that you can recruit people to help you to accomplish that, I think it’s just an amazing thing to watch,” Rachel England says.
Need a sure-fire way to set priorities and create your goals?
According to Thrive Global, “An incredibly helpful way to do this is by following the SMART acronym: Specific, measurable, achievable, results-oriented, and time-bound. Defining your goal through this framework allows you and your team to have a full understanding of what exactly is hoping to be achieved here. It can also help to further motivate your team by showing them the full picture.”
Once you and your team have clear goals, it’s time to get to work!
Getting to Work
Don’t be discouraged if you have to adjust your goals as you go! You’ll run into setbacks—but that doesn’t mean you should quit or that you failed. It just means you’re new to this and you’re learning more as you go!
At NWEF, we want to help you help others! We offer resources that encourage and equip you to improve education in America and influence your community for the better. Check out our blog and our school board training course. You can learn more from our interview with Robbie and Rachel England here.