There seems to be a for Dummies book for everything – over 1,600 titles and growing.  They must be doing something right.  For 20 years, Wiley has published “a reference for the rest of us” covering such far-ranging titles as running a bar, acne, Windows, and wikis.  There’s one for Christian prayer and yes, one for leadership.  The premise for each of the books is always the same:  keep it simple and clear, offer cheat sheets, keep it light-hearted, and give easy-to-comprehend “get in, get out” tips.

With all due respect, maybe it’s time for a different approach.  Maybe instead of presuming ignorance and moving up from there, somebody should presume that he or she is writing to geniuses.

They just may not know it yet.

Nowhere is that more real than in the area of leadership.  Often both leaders and non-leaders approach the subject as if becoming a leader is a power we gain to overcome weaknesses, information we gather to overcome ignorance, or favor we gather to overcome anonymity.

But what if you already had the power, the understanding, or the favor?  What if you’re already a leader, but just didn’t know it because nobody ever seems to recognize your unique genius?  What if you’re beating your head against the wall trying to get better in an area where you routinely stink it up – all the while ignoring or running from areas of your greatest power and influence?

Maybe it really is time for a different approach.  How about Leadership for Geniuses?

I can her that “aw shucks” reply already.  “I’m no genius.  I’m just average or ordinary.”

Maybe you are – in the tiny arena you’ve been focusing on.  But there’s a universe out there where you may shine bright as day, and influence an entire tribe of followers.

And here comes the other objection, right on cue:  “Who says I want to be a leader?  I’m just content to be a worker bee.”

Fair enough.  But are you ever in a situation where you need to influence somebody – badly?  Are you ever in a position where someone looks to you as the person they are following?  Can you ever envision a day when people look to you for guidance, wisdom or help?  Can you imagine a team or collaborative situation where you are expected to engage and hold your own as a member of the group?

Don’t you think it’s time to find your leadership genius?

One thing is clear – we need to stop equating leadership with being the boss.  That may or may not be true.  Not every boss is a leader (unfortunately) and not every leader is a boss. But everyone can and does lead at his or her points of genius.  So instead of trying to fill a hole left by your lack of knowledge or ability, try building on the areas of expertise and wisdom you already possess.

Below are seven places to discover the genius you can build on to lead others forward.  Since leadership is an “epic act” (sometimes), we can use that as an acronym.

Experience

Second Lieutenants, fresh out of the Academy, outrank Master Sergeants.  But who would you want to follow when the bullets start flying?

Your life experiences can form an incredible platform for mentoring, contributing to the team, or guiding an organization.  And they don’t all have to be “successful” experiences!  Learn from your failures, heal from your painful episodes, retell the moments of laughter and tears, and you will shape the choices of others.

Passion

I don’t mean short-term bursts of emotional steam or Johnny-come-lately concerns.  Here I’m talking about the passions of a lifetime.  What have you pursued for a lifetime?  What have you watched, studied, meditated on, and out of love completely immersed yourself in for decades?  You’ll find some influence there, even if this avocation is something you use to escape the rat race of noisy people.  Your deep, abiding love for whatever or whoever will give you insights others don’t have and often perspective others need.

Intelligence

This includes native intelligence, otherwise known as common sense.  It also includes emotional intelligence, social intelligence, and moral intelligence.

Here it’s all about the ability to know things.  To know (or learn quickly) the intellectual field, or to know what to do or how to get others to do or to know right from wrong.  I know people with barely-average IQ who are outstanding leaders because they have extraordinary people skills or emotional intelligence.  And many of these intelligences can be learned.

Competencies

Everybody’s good at something, including you.  Those abilities don’t always show up on resumes, but they do provide gateways for leadership.  If I gather up a group of corporate CEO-types and lead them on an elk-hunting trip to the northwest, we’re all going to follow the leadership of the guide once we get there.  After all, the collective wisdom of the best and the brightest isn’t a whole lot of help when we’re just irritated a thousand-pound grizzly bear.  We’d all prefer to follow the leadership of somebody who knows what the heck he’s doing.

Which brings me back to you.  Where do you have enough confidence in your ability that you can look somebody in the eye and say, “I know what I’m doing?”  You just found a platform for leadership.

Anointing

As I am writing this from a Christian worldview, I need to point out that among Christ followers, significant leadership comes as the result of a person’s anointing, or spiritual gifts.  “Anointing” refers back to Old Testament times when people who were called out to certain leadership offices were anointed with oil as a symbol of the calling and power of the Holy Spirit.  The New Testament corollary to that is that when the Holy Spirit empowers people, He does so in wonderfully unique ways.  We refer to those as spiritual gifts, and no two believers are gifted alike.

While not every spiritual gift is necessarily a leadership gift, many are or can be points of influence.  Do you know how you are gifted?  Do you find others being influenced by that, even if you didn’t set out to influence them?  That is definitely a gateway for leading others – especially in a Christian context.

Character

We often speak of character as a missing ingredient, especially in people who occupy the big offices.  But actually having character qualities of honesty, integrity and genuine concern for people are a surprisingly powerful foundation for leadership.  Without fail, as Kouzes and Posner repeatedly survey people to ask what they are looking for from their leaders, honesty is always at the top – above vision, competence, and inspiration.

My point is that honesty doesn’t just keep you at the top.  It can get you there because it’s so rare.  People respond to the influence of those they trust, and in whatever arenas you have earned the trust of people, you’re already a leader to some degree.

Temperament

At any given time, any of us are capable of acting in a myriad of ways.  But as we tend to be creatures of habit, we tend to behave in patterns that serve us well – especially under stress.  These behavior patterns form the basis of our personalities, or temperament.

One of the myths about leadership is that you have to have a certain type of personality to lead.  Not so.  However, you do have to have an awareness of how your personality best functions in leadership situations.  Some temperaments respond better to command-and-control situations, while others respond very well to inspire-and-initiate opportunities.  Some outstanding leaders are profoundly introverted, but rise to the occasion in serving the needs of people or helping shape policy.  The biggest challenge, regardless of your personality, is to avoid trying to mimic somebody else just because you’re trying to lead.  Be yourself, and lead from the strength of your own temperament.

 

Everybody’s a genius at something, even if it’s something as ordinary-looking to you as being, well, you.  The key to leading anybody is to leverage those points of genius to influence others around you.

Or sometimes, to influence the entire world.

Your turn, Genius.

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