Leadership – What Is It Really?

It’s easy to recognize the need for real leadership in today’s world.  Just glance the headlines in any newspaper and you will notice that the quality of leadership is the first thing questioned whenever something goes awry in society, the world of business or government.

Even in the world of sports, it’s often not the play of the athletes; but instead, the leadership that falls under the heaviest scrutiny if a team doesn’t play well.  In most cases, the coaching staff will be dismantled as a sign that change is being implemented, before roster changes are made.

Change the leadership and perhaps players will play to their expectations because the culture and environment have changed.

An explorer is only as good as the map that navigates them.  A child has a better chance of succeeding in life with good teachers and role models providing them solid direction.  A building doesn’t get built without an architect drawing up specs to relay vision and direction to the builders.

And many people, regardless of individual skills or intelligence, can only come together as a team or perform to their highest ability when quality leadership is present.

So, what exactly makes a good leader?

Hallmarks of Leadership

 Leadership is an adventure that carries a great deal of responsibility.  In one day, sometimes within the same hour, a leader may be called upon to act as an instructor, counsellor, motivator, friend or disciplinarian, depending on the situation.

The best approach for a leader is to be aware that they are nurturing and cultivating a work relationship.  Leadership is the process of ensuring that things get done through people that we may not know very well or have very much control over.  Once a leader is familiarized with whom they are working with, recognizing their strengths and weaknesses, there is great potential to influence their work or performance.

It’s possible to have the best training in the world, years of experience, remarkable expertise, an unbelievable IQ, great management and analytical skills but still fail as a leader.

It is emotional intelligence, an ability to perceive, assess and manage the emotions of people, which will make an average leader a great leader!  Emotional intelligence is necessary to deal with other people, stay calm in high-pressure situations, multitask and look at things from multiple perspectives.

A football coach can’t control everything that happens on the field, but, as the leader, the coach is expected to have answers if bad play and team losses become routine.  The coach is expected to notice developing patterns and address them with the players involved.  This requires astute observation along with interpersonal and communication skills to talk the player through whatever the issue might be.

The era of a leader having to be a disciplinarian is passé.  These days leadership is more about keeping your emotions in check.

There may be moments when it’s necessary to be strict or forthright but leadership today is more about empathy, recognizing the feelings of others, resolving conflict, maintaining relationships and being a motivator.  Needlessly yelling, barking out orders and being condescending will just lead to low morale or high turnover.

Survey Says…

Kouzes and Posner (Leadership Challenge, 2002) have conducted research on effective leadership for over two decades.  Respondents from six continents identified at least 225 different values, traits and characteristics that they both looked for and admired in their leaders.

The four most desired traits were honesty, forward-looking vision, competency and inspiration.

You don’t necessarily have to be a boss or supervisor to be a leader.  There are plenty of situations, particularly when working as a team or group, where one member quietly assumes a leadership role just based on their knowledge, experience, work ethic, attitude and willingness to help and guide others.

The most successful leaders are always sure to lead by example.  This is why it’s extremely crucial on their part to be honest and establish trust.  The behavior of a leader is closely monitored by anyone looking to him or her as a role model or guide.

Here’s an example of good leadership.  A sales team is failing to meet their quota for the month and bonuses are in jeopardy.  With one sale needed, the leader of the sales team, after business hours, drives 90 minutes one-way to meet with a client who is out of the way for the rest of the team.  The deal is closed and every team member receives his or her monthly bonus.

Someone might question why the leader didn’t delegate the task to someone else on the team.  But, the next time that same sales team is faced with a similar challenge, in all probability, they will remember the efforts of their leader and how he or she handled this obstacle.  It’s safe to assume that someone on that team, if not the entire team, will be more likely to literally go the extra mile to step up for themselves, their team and their leader.

People expect their leadership to be competent with a forward-looking vision.  A leader must have a clear fixed vision and mission statement that is communicated clearly to those working under them.  It’s his or her job to ensure that everyone is on the same page and pursuing the same goal.  This adds immensely to the team/partnership element and serves as inspiration and motivation for the workers.

Daniel Goleman, in his book Primal Leadership, makes many excellent points about effective leadership.  To paraphrase, Goldman states that great leaders move us, ignite our passion and inspire the best in us.  Great leaders have the ability to move people by channeling emotions in the right direction.  Good moods in many cases equate good work.  Take note of this and you’ll realize that one doesn’t have to be born a great leader, however, we each have the ability inside us to become one!

Some Questions

 What is the one thing that you need to do to increase your skills and ability as a leader?

What would be the first step that you’d need to take to follow up on this notion of being a leader, not necessarily a team leader, but a personal leader?

What would it take to make that step?  Is it to read a book?  Is it to interview someone about leadership?  Is it to show courage and put your hand up for a leadership role?  Is it to seek our some coaching?  Is it to show personal discipline to get out of bed that bit earlier and go to the gym?  Is it that strength of character that says “no” to certain situations?  What is it exactly?

Are you up for this? Are you prepared to give it a go and step up for this?  Jot down what you intend to do – commit it to paper – and then go and do it!