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The Leadership Factor

What is the last leadership opportunity that you passed up?

When I posed this question to a group of employees who had been singled out for their leadership potential:

50% named the title/position they failed to apply for or had not been offered.

10% said they hadn't been offered an internal position but had passed up a leadership position in an outside organization or a chance to lead their extracurricular sports.

40% said that they hadn't been offered any leadership position and therefore had passed up no opportunities.

I was certain that every one of them had missed a prime leadership opportunity that they were not even aware of. Ask yourself if your department, team or organization is the best that it can possibly be? Are you giving your best to make the situation better?

If there is one project in your department that is delayed, if your group is challenged to do more work with less budget, or if you have yet to exhaust all of your talent to move the group forward--you have passed up a powerful opportunity to step out in front and establish yourself as a leader. Leadership is not about the title you have but the decisions you make and the actions you take.

Don't wait for extraordinary opportunities seize common occasions and make them great. --Orison Swett Marden

Becoming a leader is about developing a reputation for producing value-added results. It's taking a position when a project is off track. Leaders don't wait for permission of position. They look for the possibilities and suggest what can be done rather than why something can't be done. Look for what you can do to impact a situation versus why you can't be the one to do it. When you have ability to influence your environment and the people around you toward positive result you have the leadership factor.

The leadership factor is a measured combination of vision, determination, skills, actions and results. It is a conscious decision to step up to the plate and do what needs to be done in a time of uncertainty or chaos. Here are ten steps to help you plot your course, engage others along the way and keep focused on the end result.

1. Look for leadership opportunities. Leadership opportunities are present whenever there are unresolved business problems or issues. Within your organization, department, workgroup, or team identify an opportunity or issue that needs to be solved. Think about the questions that continue to come up but no one has found an answer for. Consider the feedback that you get from internal or external customers about what they need or would like more of. If your organization is like most you shouldn't have to look far--more unresolved problems equals more chances for you to step forward as a leader.

2. Find the GAP and build a bridge. There is an old proverb that says a leader must be a bridge. The person who emerges as the leader of the group is the one who is adapt at seeing the option between the two seemingly opposite positions. To raise your visibility and develop a reputation of leadership look for the two unconnected shores that you can bridge. A bridge might be between the old way and the new way, the past and the future, the majority group and the minority group, between company policy and customer needs, between what is available and what is needed. Lead by finding the critical link between today's challenge and tomorrow's opportunity.

3. Do your homework. Examine the problem from all sides. Ask a series of "why" questions. Why is this happening? Why have we not been able to solve this before now? Why is it important to solve this issue? Why have previous attempts failed? Why are other departments resisting the changes? Asking "why?" without judging the answers helps you develop a deeper understanding of the situation. When you can see the problem from many angles and as viewed through different eyes you gain the wisdom of multiple perspectives.

4. Clarify the GOAL. It's the goal. It's the goal. It's the goal. Determine what your group needs more of. Communicate clearly how tackling this issue will help the group recoup lost time, maximize limited resources, reduce costs, speed up processes and/or improve return on investment. You will gain the attention of those around you when you can effectively tell them what they will gain for their efforts. You will benefit by tying your work directly to the improved results.

5. Develop a list of viable options. Excellence is said to come from having many options. Once you have others focused on the goal, ask for their input on how it might be achieved. As a leader you don't need to have all of the answers. You do have to set the direction, suggest paths for getting there and stimulate the thinking of others in development of creative solutions. It is important that you continually test any proposed suggestions against the desired result. Ask yourself and others, "Will this help us reach the goal?"

6. Select the best option(s). Given enough money, people, time and resources almost any problem can be resolved. Leadership is about determining how the goals will be reached within the time allowed, the budget given and the available physical and human resources. As a leader look for ways to leverage what you have readily available. The best option is the one that gets you to the goal with the least overall costs.

7. Identify roles and tasks. As a leader of the effort you may not have the authority to assign specific people but you will have to clearly define roles required. Too often we assign tasks simply out of habit and not because they are necessary for goal achievement. Constantly check the progress and don't be afraid to throw out any unnecessary tasks. There should be NO tasks on your project list that you can not show are absolutely required to reach the end goal.

8. Track and report your success. Report what you and/or your team accomplished. Quantify the results as much as you can. If your goal was to increase productivity by 25% and you only gained a 15% increase, report it! Make sure to link your results to the organizational goals. While you may not have hit your 25% target 15% may still represent a considerable savings or gain to the company.

9. Report your learnings. As important as it is to report your success you must also report what you learned from the process. Focus on what you learned personally. Consider what you learned about the business, your customers, teaming, and your own decision making ability. Ask for feedback. Include group learnings. Leave a record of the pro's and con's for others who may face the same challenges.

10. Look for the next opportunity. Don't take too long celebrating your last win. For as good as things seem success is a moving target. Keep your eyes and ears open, your next opportunity may be right around the corner.

About the author:
Valarie Washington, President of Think 6 is a knowledge broker helping companies improve organizational effectiveness, team performance, and individual productivity. Author of "Performance Case Analysis", she delivers high impact training to corporations throughout the U.S. and internationally.

Contact Valarie at or by calling 630-705-1189. Visit us at

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