“Why fit in, when you were born to stand out?”
It can be difficult to be recognized for your strengths, contributions, and abilities when working as a leader. Often times, we are one of many leaders, and our peer group can be very competitive and of very high quality. Additionally, leaders by nature are humble people and we spend very little time in front of the mirror, analyzing our successes, or telling others about us.
This post is coming from the perspective of what elements, when coupled with outstanding performance can provide the distinction between us as leaders. The picture accompanying the title was taken in a beautiful South Dakota corn field in early August. I was out running one morning and working this blog possibility through my mind when I recognized this standout corn stalk. In corn country, we do not see standout stalks like this much as the corn is mostly from hybrid seed and therefore the growth and performance characteristics are very similar. A standout like this one most likely connected to some excellent soil around the nodal roots or perhaps tapped into some trapped moisture at exactly the right time. Clearly, this stalk is outperforming its peers.
Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.
A leader’s preparation is a key component that can lead to being a standout. Preparation has many elements with education, experience, and training being the ones that are most-recognized. A varied experience is important in a leader’s portfolio with increasing responsibility and excellent performance being hallmarks. If your performance in your principal area of expertise was/is outstanding, you will stand out among your peers.
Education is another key piece of you as a leader. Taking the time to accomplish a well-rounded education while establishing yourself shows foresight, determination, and self-motivation. Couple this with completing requisite training, certifications, and seeking professional development opportunities rounds out your professional preparation. Being as prepared as possible makes you a desirable, proven, and capable choice when opportunity presents itself.
Human interaction and relationships are critical to success in today’s world of leadership. How you treat others is as important as how proficient you are at your primary skill. Teamwork is critical to organizational success and too often, a person’s inability to get along with others sidelines their otherwise professional career. I was often surprised how someone who prepared themselves so well had not picked up the simplest of human relations skills that were taught in kindergarten, “do unto others as you’d like them to do unto you.” Being a prickly pear gets you recognized but not as someone who stands out in a positive light.
A mentor is not someone who walks ahead of us to show us how they did it. A mentor walks alongside us to show us what we can do.
Leaders are expected to mentor and develop people and to grow those around them. Leaders who do not recognize potential and work to take it to the next level are setting themselves up for failure. Often times, a leader will not recommend their sharp performers for professional development opportunities for varying reasons. A standout leader is always looking for ways to grow their people and pushing for funds, hours, and opportunities for that purpose. I worked for a leader once who proudly told our team that he had not been offered opportunities for classes, schools, or development in his career and we would not either. I moved to another opportunity at the first chance I was presented.
Being recognized as a standout leader also includes a large and constant quantity of leadership by example across your career. When given a task to lead, do it well and make sure that what others see and learn is above reproach. Personal behaviors are a key element of leadership by example and a leader’s behaviors must always be above reproach. Numerous times over the years I would be sent to participate in a development activity, special project, or mission-specific tasking. The first night we were there was always interesting to watch displayed behaviors that were contrary to their station in life, organizational role, or expectation of the group. They were standing out but not in a way that would benefit them, the organization, or their followers. Lead by example in positive ways at all times will assist in your potential recognition as a stand out leader.
My hope for this post is to refresh us on how we stand out among our peers and how we ensure we are prepared to step up and lead when an opportunity presents itself. I have focused the last fifteen years of my professional life to leading, mentoring, and educating the future generation of leaders in our nation. There are some new processes and methods but really leadership is about preparation, performance, and example; ensure that those you are responsible for growing are actively engaged in this process so they stand out among their peers when their time comes!