One of John Maxwell’s famous laws of leadership is called the “Law of the Lid”. The Law of the Lid states that: “Leadership ability determines a person’s level of effectiveness.” Basically as a leader, we will max out on our effectiveness if we don't grow our ability to lead. We don't simply lead better by working hard, but by growing our skills in leadership. We do need to work hard to acquire leadership skills but simple hard work does not always equate to leading better. Work ethic and leadership skill are not the same thing. All effective leaders work hard, but not all hard workers are effective leaders. We must improve our skill-set and knock off the dullness of our leadership!
One of my favorite illustrations of this truth is about two men who were chopping wood. The first man labored hard and steady all day. The other man also worked hard but every so often would stop and take a break. While on his breaks he would call out to the first man and say “Come and have a rest, I want to show you something that will help you.” But the first man would say, “Not now I’m busy. I don’t want to lose any time.” By the end of the day the second man had chopped far more wood than the first man. This surprised the first man because he was sure he had worked harder than the second man. So he asked “How did you do it? How did you cut more wood than me?” And the second man replied “Well every time I stopped to take a break, I sharpened my axe!”
If the axe is dull, and one does not sharpen the edge, then he must use more strength; but wisdom brings success.” -Ecclesiastes 10:10
Here are a 5 ways to sharpen the blade of leadership.
1. Read. You may have heard “readers are leaders.” Now reading doesn't define your influence, but if you don't get out of the box of your own mind and your own ideas, you wont grow as a person or as a leader. It has taken me decades to learn to love reading. I would always argue that “I am just not a leader.” My desire to grow eventually had to override my preference of reading. I would listen to leadership teachings, however, the strength of reading is that it blocks everything out and causes you to focus on a single subject. Now I love to read, but I had to do it before I loved it. If you are not a reader start with a blog a week and work your way into books. Read what interests you and read what sharpens you!
2. Listen. One of the great things about living in the information age is that we have podcasts, audiobooks, and youtube at the tip of our fingers. We have a global library in our pocket! I love music, but when I have a 15 minute plus commute or when I am working out, I make sure that I spend some time listing to things that sharpen me as a person. What an easy way to educate ourselves and sharpen our skill-set.
3. Ask. Ask people that you are leading: “How can I lead better?” Most of the time we already know what everybody else knows about us. There is not just great strength in getting their objective view, there is also great strength in knowing that we don't hide our weaknesses.
4. Develop relationships. Develop relationships with other people in your field. Not just co-workers or friends, but get to know people outside of your organization that are doing similar things. Ask questions, learn tricks, and share your insights! I have even done this on social media. I find pastors and other designers that I have never met but connect with them so that I can be inspired by what they are doing. This has been huge in sharpening me as a leader and in my design business!
5. Develop a system. Naturally, I am disorganized. You should have known me 15-20 years ago, I was such a mess! I have earned that if I am going to do more, I have too develop a capacity to manage more. This is hard for those of us who are creative because inspiration fuels what we do. We have to be flexible, but a daily and a weekly schedule will help us keep our ax sharp! Sometimes this means taking 3 minutes in the morning to plan out your day or taking 10 minutes to plan out your week. Eventually taking 12 hours to plan out our….well I am not there yet either. ;)
Don’t continue grinding on with a dull blade! Sharpen your axe with these simple steps and take some of the labor out of leading. It will help you to work smarter not just harder!