Regardless of the debates surrounding whether leaders are born or made, everyone has the potential to become a leader. In my line of work, as the dean of the School of Business and Public Administration, I encounter many young leaders — business owners, policy makers, law makers and enforcers, accountants, auditors, you name it. They are all successful in their own right and have made significant investment in their growth and development. But how did they get there? This is a question many up and coming professionals ponder as they look admiringly at their mentors, leaders, heroes or heroines. So, here is some guidance about how to get there — please know, this is based on pure, anecdotal evidence.
My first recommendation is to create your roundtable. Yes, just like King Arthur’s famed table in Arthurian legend around which he and his knights congregated. At the roundtable, there is no head, which implies that everyone who sits there has equal status; everyone is important and everyone is equally valuable. If we think of the symbolic implication of King Arthur’s roundtable, liken it to the circle of influence in your life. The roundtable ought to be filled by people that bear great influence in your life, that you would regard as mentors. These are your trusted advisors whose experience you will rely on for motivation and support. Typically, this may include individuals you see daily, listen and look up to, work with, pray with, admire, hold in high esteem, inspire you, etc.
But there is a very important step you must adhere to when establishing your roundtable. You have to invite these individuals (mentors) to sit at your round table. Yes, this means reaching out to them and asking them to be your mentor. And, it does not stop there. You have to meet with your mentor, regularly. This could be a brief meeting over coffee, lunch or virtual meeting. Remember, you create your circle of influence by invitation. You (yes, you) get to decide who gets a seat at your table. Be sure to identify the number of seats you will have at this round table. This means you need to be selective and mindful of who gets a seat at your table. I must warn you to be wary of those self-proclaimed individuals who pull out a seat at your table and bequeath themselves the title of mentor. Many will, indeed, cross that line. These are folks that will need to have a seat somewhere else.
If you’re looking to fill seats around your table, consider who ought to be invited. You will want people who will serve as a coach, cheerleader, critic, spiritual guide, compass or north star, and any others that you may need as you grow and develop. At your roundtable, the coach will typically share their knowledge and expertise to help you grow and transform into a better person. The cheerleader is your rainbow, whose role is to make you feel good about yourself. They lift you up, make you feel happy and encourage you to remember how fantastic you are. Then, we all need a critic at the round table. The critic is the person who is not afraid to call you out when you have made poor decisions or costly mistakes. This person will hold you accountable for the things you say you are going to do and will help move you in that direction. They keep your ego in check and will verify that you have looked at all perspectives when making decisions. Some may need a spiritual guide (I have one at my round table). This person shares his or her wisdom which is derived from life experiences, religious dogma, as well as cultural wisdom and tradition handed down from generation to generation. This person ought to remind you to live life consciously and find meaning in the life journey. The compass or north star represents a beacon of inspiration and hope. This is the person at the roundtable who has achieved something you aspire for and serves as a great example that can guide, shape, expand and polish you. Filling the seats at your roundtable with the right people will create an ecosystem of support that will lead to building your leadership capacity and transform you to the next level of growth.
I challenge you to begin thinking about your leadership ecosystem. Who are the major players in your life that are influencing your professional and leadership transformation? You have a choice to select who will lead you to success. Surround yourself with them, learn from them and stay in touch with them. At some point, you may need to invite different people to sit around your table, this is a natural evolution of the transformation process. There could be no better time than now to get yourself that round table.