We constantly hear people talking about Leadership these days; great politicians, soldiers, explorers, sportsmen (and women), but what does it take to be a leader? Does it mean that they are the best technically at what they do? I suppose sometimes this is true. Does it mean ‘being in charge’? Well sometimes this is part of it. However I would suggest that there are a few elements of Leadership that are different from both of the above. You can be a Leader, without being the boss.
I would suggest that a leader is someone who influences (or controls) the direction in which the organisation/group he/she belongs to move in. This can be done by example, rather than just power; by ability rather than position.
The Leader in a group is the person who can best see or understand what needs to be done to meet the group’s needs. They are the person who can most clearly see the way forward, and what it means to the group.
They act, rather than just talk. They don’t just tell others what to do, they show them by example what needs to be done, and why it is important.
We hear a lot about ‘vision’ these days from big corporations, but it is seldom explained why this is important. It is meant to be an act of leadership. It should paint a vivid picture of what the future is meant to look like so that every member of that group knows what they are moving towards, and therefore their own personal contribution towards getting there.
A Leader enables, rather than just controls, and enabling is at least as important, if not more so, than the trendy ‘empowering’. The Leader brings out the best in their team. They help create an environment where each person can offer the best of themselves. Where the sum total of these individual gifts delivers just what is required, without waste.
A Leader draws out the best performance from each person (the word educate is from the Latin educare to draw or lead out).
A Leader must also be brave, not fearless, because they probably can see the dangers more clearly that the others, but brave enough to move forward despite the risks, because they can see that standing still is no option. They will do what is needed, rather than what is popular, because it has to be done.
They chose where to invest time, energy and resources. They make judgements about what is likely to work, and what won’t. Sometimes these judgements come from finely honed instincts, rather than long debate, or years of experience.
A Leader is deeply in tune with his/her environment. They listen to what is going on, both internally and externally, and are the first ones to sense danger. The essence of Leadership is survival!
I was astonished when some years ago I discovered that relatively junior people in a larger global corporation not only felt that they could exercise Leadership, but actually did so by virtue of their vision and energy. It was the first time I understood that the boss and the leader didn’t have to be the same person. Think of some families you know, who has the most influence over what happens?
So if you can see that things not only could, but should be different, rather than complaining, maybe you should be a Leader and make the difference that is required. Don’t wait to be asked, don’t wait till it is your job… Just do it and see what happens!
Richard is a dynamic, professional and thoughtful consultant with strong client focus. - MD, Destination Innovation
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