The Leadership Compass

A few years ago, my good friend Bill Hybels, founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, came up with an interesting concept about how leadership is like the face of a compass, with four points—south, north, east, and west.

When people talk about leadership, they are usually talking about the compass pointing south. When you lead south, you are the leader and your job is to help your people win. Spencer Johnson and I wrote about this in The One Minute Manager. You work with your people on goal setting, praise them when they do well, and redirect them when they get off track.

When you manage north, it’s about influencing up—which is the subject of my book with Susan Fowler and Lawrence Hawkins, Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager. How do you get what you need to succeed? You must develop the right mindset and skillset to ask your boss for exactly what you need.

Then there’s leading east and west, which is all about supporting your colleagues and others in your peer group. When you know how to lead laterally and create win-win situations with your peers, it can have a very positive effect on the culture. Leading east and west is also about the mentoring that can happen among people of any rank or age as long as one person has something they can learn from another.

What’s really key to the compass analogy is what is at the center of the compass: you. The most difficult leadership challenge we all have is ourselves. Meeting that challenge begins by being self-aware. It doesn’t matter how many points we hit around the compass if we’re not strong in the middle. Take a hard look at yourself. Figure out what you need to do to be the kind of leader you want to be.

If you want to be a 360-degree leader, you need to learn how to lead in all four directions—south, where  you serve the people who report to you; north, where relationship and influence help you manage those with authority over you; and east and west where you guide and encourage your peers. And don’t forget to keep the compass point centered by knowing you are the best leader you can be so that you can maximize your influence on others.

Getting to Know Yourself

In our book Mission Possible, my coauthor Terry Waghorn and I state that the most important earthly relationship you can cultivate as a leader is your relationship with yourself.  That might sound self-serving, but think about it—how well do you really know yourself?

Every leader should have a purpose—a reason for being—something to strive for. A purpose is different from a goal because it is ongoing. It has no beginning or end.

As a leader, your purpose comprises two elements: a personal mission statement and a set of values that define your strengths and help you make values-based decisions on a daily basis. Having a clear purpose gives meaning and definition to a leader’s life.

Some people have asked me if making money is a good purpose.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money—and it may be a goal to work toward—but it’s not a purpose. Purpose isn’t about achievement. It is much bigger. Your purpose is your calling. It’s about what business you are in as a person.

I ask leaders to spend time developing their personal mission statement by answering these four questions:

  1. Why am I in the world?
  2. What is my overarching purpose?
  3. What would I like people to say about me after I’m gone?
  4. What difference will it have made that I was here?

The next step is to identify your personal values by answering these questions:

  1. What is really important to me?
  2. What do I stand for?
  3. What three values do I want to live by?
  4. Which of those values is most important?

Going through this process takes some soul searching and quiet, thoughtful time. This isn’t an exercise to rush through.

Once you clearly understand your motivation and intention as a leader, you are able to monitor yourself on a daily basis. You’ll begin to notice certain actions that are more in line with your purpose than others. And you’ll begin eliminating behaviors that don’t support your purpose—and staying on a path of continuous personal improvement.

When you really know who you are as a leader, you can operate more efficiently and calmly while making meaningful decisions. But the best part is that you’ll also be able to bring out the magnificence in others. And isn’t that the most important role of a leader?