As a student of Dr. John Maxwell, I have embraced one of his foundational tenets: Leadership is all about adding value to others. Living out this principle, however, is not always easy. It’s not like a light switch that can simply be turned on when needed. It is a regimented process; one that we grow into over time, through trials and errors, and with much practice. For some this process comes naturally while for others, it can be a slow progression. There are steps to take to achieve the principle of adding value to others and I would like to offer this value sequence overview for your consideration.
Step 1: Value Yourself
The first step in adding value to others is to value you. Perhaps that seems counter intuitive or even a bit selfish. But in order to lead others, you must first prepare yourself to do so. Self-awareness is where it all begins. What are your personality traits? What is your emotional intelligence? What are you truly passionate about? Sometimes the answers are not as easy to uncover as we would like, but it is important to spend time making these discoveries. And it is certainly appropriate to consult with family and friends to help you become more self-aware.
Value yourself by being happy with whom you are becoming. As leaders, we are always learning and growing to become more effective. We are changing the things we need to about ourselves to be better leaders. It is a constant work in progress. Take pride in your accomplishments. Treat yourself kindly. Exercise regularly and eat healthy. Maintain a positive attitude. Embrace gratitude and humility. And remember that you are allowed to be vulnerable, because at some point you will need to be.
Accept that you are going to make mistakes along the way ... and when you do, own those mistakes. It is not easy or comfortable to stand up in front of your team and acknowledge your errors. But it is extremely valuable to do so. Being humble in admitting your mistakes is a respected asset that not only makes you a better leader, but it models a behavior that you would like to see in your team. Creating an open and honest environment will inevitably add value to others as well.
Step 2: Add Value to Those Whom You Influence
Adding value as a leader does not mean that you have to be a company officer or crew supervisor or the chief of the department. Effective leadership can occur at any level of the organization, both formally and informally. The key is that as a leader, you are striving to add value to those people with whom you regularly interact. Regardless of your position, you can positively influence others though effective leadership. So how can we add value to others?
Consider that as leaders, we should equip our team for success. One effective method involves striving for positive reinforcement whenever possible. Certainly there will always be a need for corrective actions in the work we do, but dwelling on the problems does not add value like emphasizing and celebrating the successes. This positive reinforcement will always yield a higher return for our time and effort investment, and it promotes an environment of enhanced moral.
A win for the team is a win for the team leader. Serving as a mentor or coach, and empowering others to achieve success translates to a win-win. Establish expectations and give people the resources and support to complete the task. Allow for mistakes, as that is how many of us learn. And always remember, it’s not about you, it is about adding value to others. In other words, in your leadership methods, shift your agenda from “What’s in it for me?” to “What can I do for others?”
To add value to others, remember that gratitude is the attitude to have. It’s just two simple words: Thank You! It is amazing that we can yield so much value in just those two words, as long as we are sincere in our intent and delivery. Even when our people are simply meeting the expectations, a well timed word of appreciation can go a long way in showing that you care about them. In times when raises are non-existent, and especially in volunteer settings, gratitude is the reward of choice.
Step 3: Add Value to Those Whom You Serve!
This is likely the easiest step as we are accustom to caring for and adding value to those whom we serve. Whether we encounter an ill person or a family in distress whose house is on fire, we are trained to provide compassion in our actions, thereby adding a value to those who are in need. There are days, however, when even this can be challenging. We all have run the nuisance sick call at 3:00 a.m. or the repeated alarm malfunction, and in those cases, it can be easy to lose our composure. But in keeping John Maxwell’s mantra in mind, leadership is all about adding value to others.
Every shift we come upon someone who is having a bad day. Take just a moment to place yourself in their position and consider how you would like to be treated. In that moment, it is easy to recognize how to best add value to your interaction. Perhaps the value takes on the role of a listening ear, or a gentle touch, or an empathetic remark, in addition to the services you provide. And you never know just how valuable that interaction may be in that person’s moment.
Step 4: Make Every Day a Value Added Day!
Leadership is an acquired skill just like tying knots or starting an IV. Proficiency comes with practice. Much of what you have just read may have been common knowledge. And this material is just an overview of many different ways to add value as a leader. Sometimes the most difficult aspect is simply applying the process on a daily basis. We all get busy and frustrated. Leadership is not an easy task and it takes more effort to be a leader than to simply fall in with the crowd. But the rewards are always far greater! So do what you can to make every day a value added day.
Steve Marks currently serves as the assistant chief for the Cove Creek Volunteer Fire Department in Vilas, North Carolina. He has been involved in various capacities within the emergency services community since 1982, working in both operations and administration. As a certified instructor, he teaches leadership, disaster management and multi-agency coordination. Marks earned a Graduate Certificate in Community Preparedness and Disaster Management from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a Masters of Science in Emergency Management from Jacksonville State University.