Monday, November 21, 2011

One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership

I recently finished an excellent book and wanted to share it with all of you. If you do what the author asks, I believe it will have a profound impact on your ability to lead yourself and others.

Mike Figliuolo, a friend, owner of thoughtLEADERS, and occasional guest blogger for Influence PEOPLE, just came out with his first book, One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership. Mike’s basic idea is that every leader would benefit from critically thinking about his or her leadership philosophy and then committing it to paper.

I write a blog on the science of influence so you might be wondering how this ties into my weekly format. A light bulb went on inside my head when I read, “Leadership is inspiring and influencing people to act in ways they ordinarily would not.” This viewpoint ties in nicely with Aristotle's definition, “Persuasion is the art of getting people to do something they wouldn't ordinarily do if you didn't ask.”

Mike writes, “But one thing all leaders have in common is the need to understand, articulate, and continuously improve their leadership philosophy and do so in a simple, straightforward way.” With that in mind he asks readers to critically evaluate four areas:
  • Leading yourself
  • Leading the thinking
  • Leading your people
  • Leading a balanced life
It’s not enough to read and think about each so Mike asks readers to put pen to paper and write their own leadership maxims. He tells readers, “Maxims are simple, clear statements that serve as reminders for how you want to behave and lead and how you want your team members to behave.”

And why is this exercise so important? I agree with Mike when he writes, “As you apply your maxims on a regular basis, your behaviors will become more predictable for your team members, colleagues, friends, and family. That predictability and consistency are the foundation of trust for all your relationships. You can achieve consistency through the maxims approach first, because you have written your maxims down as rules you’d like to live by and second, because you have shared those maxims with others. That sharing strengthens your accountability for living up to those standards.”

Writing leadership maxims will increase your ability to be an effective leader and persuader because it will help enhance your personal authority. This is true because when it comes to influencing others your authority relies primarily on two things: expertise and trustworthiness.

If you’re in leadership already then I’ll make the assumption that you’ve been paying your dues and have some relative expertise. Unfortunately that’s not always enough to succeed because much of your success still depends on getting other people to buy into your ideas and that’s where trustworthiness comes in. As you write, share and live your maxims your team comes to rely on you to lead them in the way you’ve laid out. Without worrying about “the boss,” your people are more free to focus on the tasks they need to because there are no surprises coming from you.

Nearly 20 years ago I did a similar exercise after reading Steven Covey’s classic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One of Covey’s admonitions was that readers take time to write a personal mission statement. If you want to learn more about that exercise and see my personal mission statement, click here. Suffice it to say, I’ve told countless people that exercise was one of the most impacting things I’ve ever done because I refer to my personal mission statement daily. Through sheer repetition it’s impacted my conscious and subconscious mind.

I really think the same benefit awaits you with Mike’s work in One Piece of Paper because he encourages readers to review their maxims continually and revise as necessary. If you’re a young person aspiring to move into leadership or someone who’s just made that move, imagine yourself defining your leadership style and using that with the teams you’ll lead over your lifetime.

How would you feel if your boss handed you one piece of paper and said, “Let’s talk about this because this defines how I lead and what I expect. I think it’s important for you to know this so there are no surprises and we’re on the same page”? I’m willing to bet you’d feel pretty good. On the flip side, if you are an employer looking to hire a new leader I’m guessing you’d be very impressed if someone handed you one piece of paper that defined their leadership approach.

Businesses take time to develop vision and mission statements but individuals rarely give that much consideration to themselves. My encouragement to you from the standpoint of becoming a person of influence is simply this – get a copy of Mike’s book, read it, write your maxims, share them with others and review them often. Do so and you’ll be glad you did and those you lead will respond by giving you their best as often as possible.

Brian, CMCT 
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

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