Are You an Igniter or an Extinguisher?

By Dr. Mary Kay

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

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What is the real purpose of a leader? To control a situation? To prevent “people problems”? To resolve issues?

Over the last several months, I have found that quite a few people are confused about what a leader is and why leadership skills are not just for managers, so I thought I would define leadership and detail what each of us can do to help others realize that they are leaders, too!

Leadership is Not Fluff

Leadership is not fluff, psychobabble, or rocket science. It isn’t about “being nice” or changing who you are. Nor is it a flavor of the month.

Leadership involves real, proven strategies that hundreds of companies have used to propel themselves toward the top of their industries more quickly and at less cost than their competitors, all while creating high levels of employee loyalty and satisfaction.

Leadership comes in the form of behaviors that influence others toward a better tomorrow. To me, a leader is an Igniter – a person that fires up passion in others. We all can choose to make this kind of difference.

It All Starts With You

There are many people involved in making leadership work, but in reality, IT ALL STARTS WITH YOU. Are you willing to fine-tune your habits to get the results you want, and to be more successful than you ever thought you could be?

Being a leader is not about getting other people to change or finding out who is to blame for situations that don’t go your way. It is about working on who YOU are and learning how to influence those around you in order to reach the greatest heights for yourself and the people that surround you.

Think about the problems you deal with daily. Most of them revolve around people. If you didn’t have “people problems,” imagine all that you could accomplish. It’s possible when you work on YOU.

It feels great when you realize that you are the only person you can control and stop trying to control others, it feels great! You will have more energy and patience while dramatically reducing the amount of stress in your life.

What Keeps People from Being Leaders?

Leaders are proactive, and if you want positive results in your life, that’s what you have to become. Practically speaking, leadership is a way to have more fun, make more money, and genuinely enjoy working with people. So what keeps people from viewing themselves as leaders?

Leadership is hard work. It takes discipline. Being a leader isn’t always easy, so people give up on the daily challenges that life brings.

For example, people who come to work late or don’t show up at all; people who make mistakes and don’t speak up when they don’t understand; and, most of all, people who don’t take responsibility for their actions have all given up on this discipline.

As a leader, how do you respond? If you are like most people, you probably react to these situations by getting annoyed, doing things yourself, and working long hours.

This reactive response to “people problems” will cause you nothing but grief. Why? Because it is very tough to stay positive when you react to people. Being reactive causes a downward turn in productivity, morale, and results.

Reactive Behaviors are Self-Defeating

What reactive people see as the most productive use of their time (getting things done without people) is, in reality, an enormous waste of productivity because the negative reactions/feelings you have at the moment foster negative results.

Instead of inspiring others around you – you shut them out or extinguish them. It’s not that you’re a bad person. You think that you’re doing the right thing, but you’re actually causing yourself more ongoing people problems by not handling situations effectively. The solution: strengthen your igniter skills by responding like a leader.

Why? Because people don’t want to be fixed, managed, or told what to do; they want to be led.

Leader or Reactive? You Make the Choice

  • A leader asks questions and gets solutions from people. A reactive person tells, pushes, and provides solutions.
  • A leader attracts committed people. A reactive person gets “yes” people.
  • A leader creates a team. A reactive person gets more to do.
  • A leader gets to take time off and take a vacation with family and friends. A reactive leader has to work more hours to get things done.
  • A leader has choices. A reactive person stays in the same position.
  • A leader is engaged in fulfilling their goals. A reactive person is stressed out.
  • A leader grows and takes on greater responsibility. A reactive person burns out.
  • A leader gets results personally and through others. A reactive person goes in circles dealing with the same “people problems” over and over.

When you think about it, the choice is simple. Everyone would rather go home at night knowing that they made a difference (or at least tried to) with more energy and vitality than be drained and out of gas.

The only exceptions to this statement are the two people out of three hundred that are completely miserable in all aspects of their life. You know, the ones – the people that try to make us as miserable as they are.

Ultimately, it’s too hard being a reactive person. It’s much easier to be a leader in the long run. In the short term, it is hard either way, but the outcome is significantly different. At the end of the day, equip yourself with leadership skills, stay positively ignited, and enjoy all of life’s possibilities.

Are You An Igniter?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay is a business leadership strategist, executive coach, trainer, author, and co-founder of the About Leaders community. She’s consulted with hundreds of companies and trained thousands of leaders. Her Ultimate Leader Success course helps managers become more confident, decisive leaders. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Suzi Ring, Science Dept. Chair says:

    The title of the post was catchy. I had a different idea after I read it. In education, we frequently lack reflection time although we know how vital it is to doing a good job. Being proactive seems to be the flip-side of being reflective since, if one doesn’t find the time to reflect, it would be difficult to foresee possible circumstances that one would need to plan for. -Suzi

  • v.p. (vince) mayne says:

    When people assert themselves, others generally respond positively since decisiveness is also a trait of an “Igniter”

  • Mary Kay Whitaker says:

    Thanks Suzi for your comments. Yes, you really have an excellent point. Reflection is critical to being effective. I think it is so important that a person that takes time out of their busy day to reflect is one that is being proactive. Instead of reacting to whatever comes up they carve out time for planning and reflecting.

  • Mary Kay Whitaker says:

    Hi Vince – Decisiveness and being assertive are significant attributes of leaders and certainly describe Igniters. Thanks for adding this to the discussion.

  • Annie Abrams says:

    I learned the hard way, coming up the ranks in two privately held organizations that impulsively, and reactively responding to any situation surely undermines your credibility as a leader. I learned adaptive behavior so as to self regulate. Intead of pounding a response on the keyboard I knew I would later regret, I push myself away and go for a stroll. I might still respond but I’ll let it sit in draft overnight, without a person’s name in “To” so it doesn’t get sent mistakenly. 9 out of 10 times, the next morning, it ends up being deleted. The same is true in exchanges with colleagues when face-to-face. I will simply count to 10 and look like I am thinking so as to pause before I respond to particularly hot button topic. By the time I’ve gotten to 10, the charge is gone and I can rationally respond. Emotional Intelligence is key to being an effective Leader and I do take it seriously. I’ve tried it the other way and living with the aftermath is not empowering!

  • Mary Kay Whitaker says:

    Annie – I really appreciate the specific self-regulation examples and tips you provided. Thanks for commenting and giving us your story on what happens when we are reactive.

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