5 Ways You Earn The Right To Lead

My high school had a terrible football team.  I hope no former players read this and come hunt me down to beat me up!  Even if they do, they will know it is true.  We were terrible.

As evidence of our struggles, I was “recruited” to play as a freshman.  As a freshman in high school I weighed a strapping 110 pounds.  Blend my beast mode size with the athleticism of an Oompa Loompa and the fact that I would lose a race to an old lady, and she would not even need to change the tennis balls on her walker.  I was quite the recruit!  

The worst part about my freshman year football career is that I immediately began practicing with the varsity team.  Somehow they even let all of us scrub freshmen dress varsity on Friday nights.  This scared both me and my Mom to death!

What I remember most were the practices.  Daily I suffered 2 hour torture sessions.  I would line up against guys three years older and 100 pounds heavier than me.  They threw me around like the dainty little thing that I was.  If Screech had gone out for the football team at Bayside High, he would have fared better at practice than I did.

One thing I did learn from those practices came on a day in the middle of the season when I was being beaten up in a particularly epic way.  My position coach told me something that has carried me through a lot of leadership issues as an adult.  He said, “Lloyd (because evidently football coaches do not know first names) if you keep showing up and don’t quit, eventually these boys will see you as someone who belongs out here.  Right now you’re just earning it."

What a leadership truth!  Every day when we show up, we are just earning it.  We earn our right to lead others.  This is called credibility.  We cannot buy or be given credibility, we have to earn it.  One of the most important qualities of a leader is their credibility.  It is something that leaders work hard to gain, that can erode over time and that can be lost in one mistake.

As you take the field today and line up against issues that may leave you feeling beaten up, I want to encourage you to keep showing up and to give you 5 steps to earn credibility. 

Get fired up! 

Leaders need passion.  It is difficult to be excited about following a leader who lacks this.  Passion engages people.  Credibility is something that a leader earns by being their best self.  Nothing is more authentic than passion, which is why people are attracted to it.  When you are given a task, find something inside of that to care about.  Set your course towards something that matters to you and give it all you've got.  Passion breeds action.  It is not be enough for you to simply be excited about something, you have to act on it.  Make your rally cry compelling, but spend most of your time planning and executing.  A friend of mine has a personal motto that says, “Get fired up!”  Let’s take his advice today!

Show up early. 

Leaders deal with countless variables in a day.  Being on time is one thing that a leader can control.  Punctuality earns credibility.  It places value on others time and conveys respect to those around you.  If you are in charge during a meeting, you are going to challenge the people in the room to raise their game and possibly upset someone, the least you can do is be on time!  Arriving early shows that you have control.  Others respect that.  It is one thing you can do to let others know you are not scattered but deserve the role that you are in.  Do not whine about the early meeting, build in some margin and show up early.

Look in the mirror.

You are held to a higher standard.  If you don't like that, then get out of leadership.  Where you go, what you say, your tone, who you associate with....all impact how you are perceived.   You have to understand the power of perception.  Do you have to like it?  No.  But what you like does not matter.  How you are perceived does!  An example of the power of perception is found in a leader who always seems frantic.  Know this kind of person?  They are always blowing in with an overwhelmed look on their face, often doing the “walk/run” deal in order to hurry, enter meetings unprepared and scattered, and if you ask them how they are they reply, “Busy, busy, busy!”  Do you want to follow that person?  Neither do I.  The problem for you is that if they are the boss, you have to.  The problem for them is that they will not be given much respect.  Perception carries power.   

Here are a few ways to shape a positive perception for yourself.  

Watch your mouth. 

The Bible says the power of life and death exist in your tongue.  Our words have enormous strength.  Credibility can be erased because of erratic use of your mouth.  Learn simple self-awareness tactics like knowing how to be efficient with your words, having a volume that is not offensive to people, not dominating a conversation, and eliminating the use of slang words.  One practical way way to work on this is to learn when to speak and when to listen.  Just because you have an opinion does not mean it needs to be stated.  Are you talking just to hear yourself talk, or adding value?  When you speak do not be weird and share too much info.  Words carry weight and are difficult to take back.  Words warrant wisdom.  

Go back to school. 

You need to learn something new today.  Teachability is a value that earns respect.  It conveys that you do not feel like you have arrived.  Aggressively learn by reading, asking questions, getting around people who are better than you are.  Build relationships with people who are better at your job than you are.  The most valuable resource you have are the names and numbers in your cell phone.  Being able to text a friend who is further down the road than you are for advice is a currency that funds your future.  As leaders there are times when we have to be "Perceived Experts” in an area.  We do not know everything, but we may be called on to be experts.  These moments challenge your teachability because they require you to learn beyond where you are.  You do not have to know everything, you only need to know people who do.  Earn credibility today by learning and sharing something new with your team.  

Teachability is one of the factors that  accelerates you towards your goals.  

I would love to tell you that I grew to be an incredible football playing in high school.  Sadly that was not the case.  My small frame was built more for the debate club than the backfield.  While the NFL never came calling for me, leading people did.  The gauntlet that I was subjected to at football practice my freshmen year taught me lessons that have earned me credibility with people.  Hopefully they can help you today too.  Keep leading bravely.