Tips On Earning The Right To Lead

Ed Burghard“When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ”We did it ourselves.””

It has been my experience that leadership mastery is always a work in progress.  You can always improve your ability to lead.  Experience brings additional perspective and patience.  It also allows for practice.

One of the truths I have discovered in my career is that title does not equate to leadership.  I have met many people with titles that would make you expect they should be leaders, but in fact are not.  Just because you have the title (and earn the salary) of a President or CEO, it doesn’t mean you are a capable leader.  In fact, in some companies it simply means you have survived long enough to be handed the title.  Or, in a start-up company it means you are the one who took the initial risk.

To be a leader, you need to earn the right to lead.  Without willing followers, leadership is simply an oxymoron.  People have to want to follow you and grant you the right to lead them.

In business, you can lead from any level.  And, Management is constantly on the lookout to identify emerging leaders.  Once identified, these people are given greater opportunities to demonstrate and fine-tune their leadership skills.  They are essentially on the proverbial “fast track” for success.

How do you become one of those people Management has confidence in?  How can you get on the “fast track” and accelerate both your career and salary advancement?  It is actually not as difficult as you might think.  Here is my insight into earning the right to lead.

Earning The Right To Lead

The first step is to become a passionate owner of the part of the business you are responsible for.

It is the most important thing you can do to create Management confidence in your ability to lead.  If you are responsible for company attraction, then you need to “own” it.

What does ownership look like?

Here are four characteristics I believe describe the behavior.

  • Having a passion for the mission.  You need to be emotionally, not simply intellectually, committed.  I am reminded of the “breakfast story” when I think about full commitment.  The basic concept is that in a breakfast of eggs and ham, the chicken participates, but the pig is fully committed.
  • Take personal accountability (no victims).  When something goes wrong you stand up and take responsibility for the outcome.  No excuses, and no blaming other people for poor performance.  You are accountable for the outcome and the process to deliver that outcome.
  • Have a healthy dissatisfaction with the current situation.  The best time to improve an organization’s performance is when things are going well.  Never rest on your laurels.  Find ways to improve delivered performance.  Push to increase effectiveness or lower costs.
  • Exhibit tremendous resolve and tenacity.  Persistency matters.  You need to find ways to overcome challenges.  Be seen as the person who finds a way to succeed in spite of challenges.

The second step is to have a Personal Vision for your part of the business.

  • Recognize uncertainty brings Management closer to you.  People want to know that you know.  And, Management wants to help you be successful.  Engaging Management in these situations allows you to be seen as a critical part of the leadership team.
  • Know where you want to take your business.  Be able to articulate it simply.  Think about tomorrow.  Be enthusiastic when you share your vision and be able to explain the impact on delivering the overall mission.
  • Importantly, make sure your vision aligns with the bigger picture.  Have some obvious links between what you want to accomplish and where the company is going.  You need to be seen as part of the solution.

The third step is to prioritize your work well and visibly.

It is important your Organization and Management knows what you are working on and why it is important to enabling success.  This transparency allows Management to better help shape your ultimate performance by ensuring the required resources are available when you need them.

  • Understand the key business drivers.  Distill what matters from what doesn’t.  Be certain to focus your attention on the things that matter most and deprioritize work that has little to no impact on success.
  • Demonstrate a profound commitment to delivering the key drivers with excellence.  Stop doing unimportant stuff.  When you have extra time or budget, invest it in the work that will make a difference.  Leveraging your effort will multiply your impact on the business.  Too often people get bogged down by filling their calendar with nice to do rather than need to do activities.
  • Challenge how you invest time.  Is 80% of your time spent on key drivers?  If it is not, you could have a higher impact than you are currently delivering.
  • Align your priorities with management.  If Management is not in agreement, then you will not have the support you need.  Don’t simply work on things because you believe they are mission critical.  If your believe Management’s priorities are wrong, then have a conversation about it.  Seek to understand why Management has established the priorities they are working against.  Maybe you don’t have the full picture.


Declaring yourself a leader isn’t the same as being a leader.  Leadership is a skill and it takes a career to master.  Leading requires willing followers.  I have written on the 5E Leadership model that I advocate and I encourage you to read that post.  It is a leadership model that has served me well throughout my career.  Combined with the advice above, I have hopefully provided you a reasonable overview of what earning the right to lead looks like.

It doesn’t matter if you are a brand builder in the private sector or an economic development manager.  Leadership is important and earning the right to lead is critical to success.

I’d love to hear your tips on leadership.  Please take a moment and comment on the advice I’ve provided.

Leave a comment with your thoughts.

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