Leadership as we know is vital to achieving the shared goals of a team or organization. Unfortunately, more often than not, this is engaged on a mediocre level.
When I was younger, I joined the Larimer county 4-H program. At first, I was uncomfortable participating, but that changed over time. I became involved in leadership within a small club called the Rocky Mountain Light. I started by being a motivational speaker and later became the club President. I wasn’t uncomfortable anymore, but it was my first experience of how frustrating it is to be a successful leader.
After being involved in 4-H for some time, I was elected Junior Leadership Club President. I also became a Colorado 4-H state senator representing Larimer county.
That sparked something inside of me. It made me start a passion for recognizing where leadership falls short.
Continue reading to discover my involvement in 4-H and what you can learn from my experiences. First, let’s go over what leadership is about!
1 - what is leadership?
Such a simple question, yet makes one think very hard about what it is. Most just say it’s about telling people what to do. That is far from the truth!
I learned a lot from the 4-H “learn by doing” mindset. Something really special that I learned is what leadership truly is about, and I would like to share it with you.
Let’s start with a technical definition mixed with what I believe leadership is about:
“Leadership is the process of influencing people around you to maximize sustained efforts to accomplish a shared goal that makes a difference.”
Are leaders born or grown? That is a question that seems to bother people. Below is my belief statement on this matter:
“Leadership is an ability that is ultimately developed both mentally and emotionally. However, that doesn’t mean you aren’t born with unique traits and temperamental qualities that contribute to being a great leader.”
This can seem complicated, so I like to simplify by using a phrase that is often used in the 4-H program:
“Leadership is not about being the best, it is about making everyone around you better”
Now that we have got that out of the way, let us start exploring!
2 - Engagement is critical
The sad thing about our world is that nobody seems to be engaged anymore. We have smartphones now, so why should we care?
Throughout my 4-H experience, I quickly recognized something ironic. Members enjoyed being involved, but nobody engaged to actively participate.
My definition of engagement is the action of innovating and taking initiative on a matter of importance. Solving the lack of member engagement was confusing, but I understood nonetheless that this was an ongoing issue.
What I realized is that there should be a positive influence to encourage engagement based on needs. To do this, you need to understand some basics of human psychology.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of need
This pyramid is a wonderful way of understanding what people need in their lives to achieve their potential. This may not have entirely applied when I was in 4-H, but it is undoubtedly very useful!
Essentially, people can only be motivated on a higher section of this pyramid if they have fulfilled all the other sections beneath it. Here is an example of this concept:
There are essentially two types of motivators to influence people. Simple, yet this can be incredibly useful to implement!
- Extrinsic motivation - these are tangible rewards, usually with value in society. This includes prizes, money, and benefits.
- Intrinsic motivation - believe it or not, people generally like intrinsic rewards more than extrinsic ones! This includes recognition, building relationships, and having a purpose.
When leading a team, being able to motivate people is like a superpower. However, to utilize this, you need to understand how to communicate.
3 - Communication is everything
The number of emails and newsletters I sent throughout the eleven years I was in the program was significant! I not only learned how important it was to communicate but also how to do it well.
Nobody left behind
Nothing is more frustrating than realizing you did something incorrectly because nobody communicated an important detail to you. Make sure that absolutely everyone is informed about everything that is happening.
I became so bothered by this when I was in 4-H that I created a newsletter, produced videos, gave public presentations, and published a website.
When I would lead a group during a workshop or team project, making sure everyone worked together was a big challenge. It is not as simple as just asking someone to do something for you.
How you communicate establishes your power base to gain support to achieve goals. This power base concept is about taking advantage of your authoritative origin. There are two forms of this.
- Personal - this is who you are as a person. It includes your knowledge, network of people, and how you relate to others.
- Positional - this is the power you have in your organization. It can be as simple as demonstrating your legitimacy. This includes being able to offer rewards or coercive actions.
You can use the above as your power base when communicating your authority to others.
Strategies for influencing others
Understanding power bases help you become aware of your authority, but that alone won’t help much. That is what influencing tactics can be used for!
There were situations when I had meetings to resolve conflict, and having a strategy in place reinforces your ground. With the below options, you can either use a style of leading with kindness or relying on reasoning.
- Persuasive - present a case with logic
- Inspirational - talk about their aspirations
- Informative - ask for feedback
Tactically use each method to build up to your ask. The result should lead the person you are influencing to commit to your request.
4 - Respecting others isn’t optional
This can be a hard one sometimes, but no matter the circumstances, you need to always respect others around you. Especially those above you!
Don’t expect to be recognized
You may not get respected back or even recognized for your efforts, but that unfairness is part of being a leader. All you can really do is be your best and grow.
Set the example
The most important thing for you to remember is that you are setting an example to those that work beneath you.
Here are some things that would not set a good example:
- Not honing up on your mistakes
- Unprofessional Behavior
- Disrespecting peers
- Showing arrogance
- Being a hypocrite
What would a good example look like?
Showing up with a good attitude, excited for whatever you are going to be working on. Always being prepared and helpful to those around you. Acknowledging that you aren't perfect, and recognizing how everyone brings something special to the team.
Conclusion - leadership is a mountain to climb
In one of my last years of 4-H, I created a board that summed up what being a great leader is about. I called it “leadership is a mountain to climb.”
I was taught five different values of leadership and I took them and created a mountain trail. I did this because I believe that each part of a mountain is a unique challenge to conquer. View the image below to understand what I am talking about:
I wanted to share the knowledge that I have gained from the experience of being a part of 4-H for eleven years! I hope that you have learned some valuable insights into how to become a better leader in making an impact!