Maybe you’re leading a team, in charge of a large organization or you’re just trying to lead your own life. What is it that leaders actually do?
This was my graduate school work. In 2001, I wrote a book called The Student Leadership Guide. I never had any clue that thing would blow up the way that it has. This framework for leadership is called E-6. It answers that question: What are the major practices of leadership that we must enact on a continual basis to be able to have the amount of influence and impact we desire, in our work lives or any role in which we’re leading other people?
Let’s get right into it.
Practice 1: Envision
Great leaders envision a compelling, different and vibrant future than what’s here. They have an alternative, clear view of what the world could be like tomorrow than it is today. They have a shared purpose. They believe that they and others would be compelled by, interested in, inspired by and want to work toward it, and that’s a big deal.
You’ve read that in leadership, you have to have a vision. It’s biblical; where there is no vision, people perish. We know the power of having that vision, so you have to sit down and actually do it.
The reason we say envision versus just “have a vision” is because it’s a practice of envisioning. What should tomorrow look like for my team? What should tomorrow be like for my business or organization? What should tomorrow be like for my life?
And not just tomorrow, but a long-term mindset and view, the dream, that magnificent obsession, that bold desire, the moon-shot goals and purposes and missions of life—the bigger picture.
That’s envisioning a different reality in the future than we experience today. And that’s why everybody gets excited about leadership. Where there’s no vision, there’s no leadership. Where there’s no vision, people perish, so we have to envision.
By the way, I say that these are six practices of leadership and not six steps, because it’s not like you envision once and then you move on in the process. We always have to continually sit down and envision where we are and where we can be going. It’s an active process.
If you set a vision one time and forget about it, it’s not going to help you accomplish the influence or impact that you want.
Practice 2: Enlist
As you’re developing this vision, remember that it’s not just your vision. You’re enlisting other people to share their voices, their perspective, their dreams and desires for where you could be going.
I think the most important leadership lesson in the world is that people support what they create. If people are involved in the ideation of a vision, they’re involved in creating ideas, brainstorming, figuring out what it is we are about.
What do we stand for? Where are we going? Great leaders enlist that from other people; they’re constantly asking people what they think, how they feel, what things they desire and need.
A great leader is always enlisting other people to believe in the dream, shape the dream, stay dedicated to the dream. It’s an honest and authentic and genuine desire to see other people be involved in the process and to enjoy that process.
You’re asking questions. You’re paying attention to their needs. You’re reflecting back to things you’re hearing. You’re always enlisting others to support and build this vision, this ideal future, together.
Practice 3: Embody
Leaders stand for something. There is a congruence between who they are, the behaviors they’re enacting into the world, how they treat people, what they’re working toward and what they say is important. It’s integrity. There’s nothing more important is there? You don’t believe the message unless you believe the messenger.
As leaders, we have to stand for and demonstrate and show and portray what we really believe in. Is our team and people around us seeing us work for it, sweat for it, sacrifice for it, champion it over and over, even when it’s hard, even when there’s conflict, even when people are pissed and want to quit?
Are you still there? Do you still stand for it? If you do, then you’ll become a legend.
Practice 4: Empower
Empowerment means giving people the decision-making authority and trust to be able to work toward this vision. It means allowing them the autonomy, strength and input. It means equipping them with the knowledge, skills, abilities, technology, tools and training to allow them to succeed as they march with us to achieve something extraordinary and phenomenal.
That’s vital. That’s what empowerment is about.
Many leaders come in with a big vision, get everyone excited and seem like they want everybody involved. They do a great job of standing for it, but they don’t equip their teams to kick some butt. They never get to that place of real stride, real momentum.
Training other people and equipping them with everything they need to succeed is a vital practice of every great leader. It doesn’t happen just once.
That’s a huge failure in the working world, especially in corporate America:
- Great leaders come in.
- They nail the vision.
- They get people around it.
- They stand for something.
- But they only empower people at the beginning. They give some training and then they just disappear.
Training has to be consistent. Coaching has to be consistent. Equipping people to deal with the new challenges, the new tools, new technologies and competitive realities, that’s vital. We have to have that in place.
Practice 5: Evaluate
Evaluation is one of the hardest things we do in leadership. To evaluate the key people who are with us, their contributions. To evaluate their skills, needs and the ethics that are going on in our organization, in our team.
We’re evaluating on these questions:
- Are we being excellent?
- Are we being ethical?
- Are we being excellent and ethical as we are progressing?
- Are we progressing? If not, why?
- Are we being ethical? If not, why?
- Are people being excellent? If not, why?
We have to ask these questions. This takes practice. You have to keep your thumb on the pulse to see how we are doing. Are we alive? Are we moving forward?
That evaluation also brings up the incredible challenge that we face as leaders, which is to give honest, direct, immediate, constructive feedback to those who are trying to influence and lead—to our collaborators, friends and followers. It’s vital that we are paying attention and seeing when things are going off the rails. We can never check out. Evaluation is a consistent process of checking in and seeing how we’re doing and paying attention, to measure the progress of our mission.
Practice 6: Encourage
Encourage. Be the champion. Be the cheerleader. Be the person always motivating, inspiring and uplifting people.
Many leaders have pet projects that they get excited about it, and then those projects just disappear. You need to encourage on a continual basis. You need to light people up.
You need to have it in your heart and in your soul, that desire to want to lift people up, to get them up off their butts, to get them excited about things. If you can’t motivate them with your passion and example, then what are we doing?
You have to encourage people when this gets hard. When you’re working toward a mission, it gets hard. Longer term, the more people involved, the bigger the organization, the bigger the vision, the bigger the dream, the longer the duration to accomplish it, the more struggle, more challenge, more conflict, more discord, more disappointment, more frustration, more doubt, more delay.
All those things happen and leaders have to deal with it by always being that encouraging voice. When the chips are down and it looks most bleak, you’re still that beam of light. When it gets dark. When it gets challenging. When there’s conflict, turmoil and turbulent seas, you’re solid.
Never stop being the voice of positivity. You’re somebody they know they can go to because you’re always going to turn a negative into a positive. You’re always going to help them see the alternative you, the next step. You’re going to champion people. You’re going to champion the mission and the cause.
That’s leadership. The six E’s: Envision, Enlist, Embody, Empower, Evaluate, Encourage.
What overlays all of this is a philosophy about what we’re doing. That it’s important to us; that there’s a purpose, a mission to it that we feel deeply within us is so powerful; and we honor, respect and love those we work with.
Now it’s not just you the leader, but it’s a group of us. We are the movers and shakers who are shaping and making this mission happen every single day. We love to work together. We have fun.
Now people are standing up and they are helping come up with a vision. They are championing and cheering on, bringing in and enlisting other people. They are standing up for something. They’re living that value and truth. They are empowering other people and championing the cause. They are your eyes and ears, evaluating how the organization or mission is going. They are encouraging it so it doesn’t just ride on your shoulders.
When we do that right then we have this thing called leadership.