How to be a great leader not just an adequate one.

This last Friday I was asked to be the Keynote Speaker for West Coast LINK, a leadership conference for my kinky/BDSM/sex positive community.  Here’s my speech.

I never planned on being a leader in the kinky, poly, leather, etc etc communities and yet this is where I ended up.  If you would have told me that I’d have done things I’ve done in the last 20 years, 25 years ago, I would have laughed at you.

I’ve made numerous mistakes, made some enemies (yes, there are people out there that don’t like me.  Who would have thought it?).  Over the years I’ve come up with a few things that I think make for a good or at least adequate leader.  Well really a great leader.

What do we need to do to be a great leader?

We need to learn to listen.  I mean really listen.  Many times we think that our way is the only right way and when others come to us with ideas and suggestions, we don’t pay attention.  We miss opportunities by not listening.

Along with listening, we should always put ourselves in other shoes.  We should be able to see their issues and concerns from their point of view.  Empathy is very powerful.

Oh, and we are not all powerful, all seeing and all capable.  Not matter what image we try to project.  That means, it’s okay to ask for and seek out help.  And there is a lot of help out there.

We have our other community members and leaders.  I’ve learned so much from talking to those who have come before me and also those who are coming into leadership.  Everyone brings something new to the table.

You can also look outside the box of our community for education, advice and ideas.  If you are the leader of a local non-profit look to non-profits that specialize in education on fundraising, board development, program development, etc.  I’ve gone to numerous classes put on by United Way and other non-profit education organizations.

But what I really want to talk about when it comes to great leadership is Perseverance, Personality and Principles.

A few years ago I got to be the keynote speaker for NW Leather and I talked about communities and our various organizations and what made them successful and why they survived.   The three things that stood out were Perseverance, Personality and Principles.  And I feel these three things are equally important when looking at individual leaders in our communities.

Persevering in the times of adversity can be difficult.  You don’t know how many times I wanted to just walk away and do something other than be a community leader.  And I persevered.

How does one persevere?  Here are some tips.  Surround yourself with people who believe in you and your mission.  Enlist the support of your community.  Remind yourself often about what you wished for when you began your journey.  Focus on the positive not the negative.  If necessary re-evaluate your goals.

Walt Disney said: “All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

And then there is Personality.  What do I mean when I say personality has a large part in making us leaders?  You have to be willing to set your ego aside.  It takes more than a big ego to be a great leader, it takes a certain type of personality.   You don’t have to be a Master or a Top or a Dom, you have to be a leader.  You have to realize that a lot of leadership is about service and you have to be willing to set aside your Domliness and come from service to give back to the community as a leader.  And you have to be strong enough to be able to not let the naysayers and the drama queens get you down.

Oh, and you sometimes have to be a force of nature, as a good friend of mine puts it.  And that is the term he uses for me and well, I will take some credit for that, in that I can be a force of nature.   That said, I do my best to keep that “force” in check by remembering humility is also a key component.

Saint Augustine said:  Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.
Which brings me to Principles.  What do I mean by Principles?  There are several definitions; I like this one the best. “The collectivity of moral or ethical standards or judgments: a decision based on principle rather than expediency.”

I’d like to think that our leaders are principled and adhere to a certain moral or ethical standard.  And for the most part I think it’s true.  (oh, I know, there are some glaring exceptions.  That is for another speech on another day…why we don’t always hold our leaders accountable.)   But for the most part, our biggest successes are because of principled personalities who persevere (say that 10 times fast)

How do leaders stay principled?

We live in integrity.  When we say we’re going to do something we do it.  When we screw up we clean up the mess and get back in integrity.

We take responsibility for our actions.

We respect ourselves and others and their opinions and do so without compromising ourselves

We are open to change, but don’t let go of our values.

You can also even look to businesses  and others for guidance when it comes to Principles.  A friend of mine who works at Amazon turned me on to the Amazon Leadership Principles and while some of them are business centric, others are applicable to individuals in leadership positions.

Here’s some that resonated with me

Ownership Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job”.

Learn and Be Curious Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.

Hire and Develop The Best (I would change that to recruit and develop the best volunteers). Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others.

Think Big Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve.

Earn Trust Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing

We can also learn from relationship principles.  I’m going to be a bit self-promoting here and talk a little bit about some of the 20 Principles to Try to Live and Relate By that my husband and I created back in the 90’s.  (I’m currently writing a relationship book featuring the Principles)Some of these relationship Principles can be used by leaders as well as in forming relationships.

No surprises are allowed –That means that as a leader, you need to keep in constant communication with those who are part of your community or organization.

Make clear agreements on what each person is supposed to do. When in doubt write it down.  Making sure that all of those who are assisting you are clear on their duties makes your leadership a lot easier.

Each person should be clear about their intentions. AND Each person should be clear about their expectations of the other. Again, that’s just another way of saying COMMUNICATE!

Keep a sense of humor when working out differences of opinion. A great leader knows how to laugh and keeps their sense of humor even when those around you are not.

These are just a few of the Principles that I feel also are principles of leadership.

Principled actions are the hardest because they aren’t always the most expedient. And they definitely aren’t the easiest.  However no matter how we stick to our guns and persevere and no matter how amazing the personalities of our leaders are, without principles we will never be the great leaders that we can be.

Principled leaders also know when to step down and let someone new take over.  This can be the hardest of all.  Two years ago when I stepped down as Executive Director of both the Center and Foundation, it was painful and I knew that it was what was best, in the long run, for both organizations.  My end goal was that I want both organizations to succeed whether I’m there or not. Which was why when I got laid off last month, I still urged people to support the Center.

Leadership is not about total control no matter how much we’d like it to be.  Sometimes you have to step aside.

In closing I want to encourage all of you to take a close look at how you lead.   Do you listen?  Are you empathetic?  Are you open to learning from others and trying new things?  Are you willing to take the steps to persevere, even when times are tough?   Do you lead from service and not from ego?  Do you uphold your principles?   If you can say yes to these questions then you are ahead of the game and those you lead are lucky.  If you find yourself lacking in some area, don’t beat yourself up, rather look at what you can do to change the situation.  Being aware of the issues is a big part of moving forward.  By being conscious in how you lead, by being willing to listen, learn, preserver, be of service and uphold your principles,  you can be more than an adequate leader and truly make a difference in your community and even the world.

You can be a great leader.


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