What exactly is leadership?
The dictionary definition of leadership is that it is a noun, i.e., “the action of leading a group of people or an organization.” By that definition, the head lemming leading the herd over a cliff would qualify as a leader.
A better definition would be to focus on the verb half of the word—lead. That four-letter word, whose past participle is led, has a variety of more dynamic and qualitative definitions. To get a clearer picture of leadership, we must concentrate on what successful leaders do.
Joseph C. Maxwell writes in his book, “How Successful People Lead: Taking Your Influence to the Next Level”, “Leadership is a process, not a position.” Leadership is different from management, because management thrives “when things stay the same.” On the other hand, “Leadership deals with people and their dynamics.”
Said Steve Jobs, “Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.”
An analogy of leadership would be a group of pioneers navigating their way through a dense forest. The manager is on the ground guiding the group past the individual trees. The leader is up ahead scouting for a clear path and possible better routes.
Leaders must be experienced and qualified.
Much has been written about leadership development. The Google search phrase “qualifications of a leader,” for example, elicits about 142 million results. Leading the list is a blog by Adam Enfroy. In his blog, 11+ Leadership Qualities: A list of Skills to Make a Good Leader, Enfroy lists and elaborates on the following essential leadership qualities:
- Ability to communicate effectively–includes active listening
- Integrity: doing the right thing even when no one is watching
- A sense of accountability: taking more share of the blame, and less of the credit
- Empathy towards others and the ability to know the difference between being kind and the value of emotional intelligence
- Humility with a focus on problem-solving rather than self-promotion
- Resilience: rallying the team during turbulent times
- A positive influence over others through building trust and lasting relationships
- A positive life outlook, even when things go wrong
- Confidence: the willingness to take charge in every situation
- Open-mindedness: listening to and understanding others and openness to new ideas and concepts
- Vision: seeing clearly that which is unclear to others
- The ability to delegate, i.e., shifting from doing to leading
The day in the life of a leader
A typical day in the life of a good leader involves the following six strategies:
1. Focusing on the big picture
The best leaders come to work each day with a laser-like focus on “big-picture” priorities. Those priorities could be seasonal, or strategic transformation goals—i.e., a merger or acquisition.
The majority of the leader’s time is paying attention to and employment of resources—people, money, and material—to completing objectives, communicating, empowering teams and coalitions to keep moving forward.
The more mundane day-to-day issues in the life of a leader arise from something urgent or an emergency requiring the leader’s attention or intervention. Typically, when someone brings a problem, the leader’s first step is to show how the problem can be resolved at the lowest level possible and guide the person or group to a solution.
2. Limiting targets and having the right priorities
The key to being what Les Wallace, PhD, describes as a “high impact leader” requires letting go of accepting responsibility for too many priorities. The latter arises from the misguided notion that a high performance leader “can cover more ground than the average person.”
Likewise, says Dr. Wallace, “The 12-hour day and 80-hour workweek is not the answer” to living the life of a leader. That is because exhaustion leads to diminished effectiveness as a leader, family partner, and a member of the community. The best advice is to get over “the 20th Century guilt trip of having a busy overcommitted list of priorities.”
3. Building a capital of relationships
The best leaders know that optimal outcomes come from people, rather than plans, which rarely remain intact after their first contact with reality. The best leaders also know that successful human effort is nurtured through encouragement and trust.
Add appreciation, coaching, and the necessary information for the team to do its job, and the leader has made an investment in human capital that will pay dividends in organizational excellence and professional growth.
4. Developing others
The most valuable leadership behavior is developing others. The best leaders know that, while formal training is important, the most lasting and relevant development comes in real time. In the military, this is known as “training your relief”—or developing a subordinate to take over your position someday.
The best leaders develop others by:
- showing an honest and earnest interest in helping people grow
- acknowledging and expressing appreciation of their people’s learning and accomplishments
- helping people find greater opportunities to learn in their current work environment
Leaders invested in the personal and professional development of others become dominant influences in an organization’s leadership development program. They are the willing teachers, coaches, and advisors in the organization and have a say in the organization’s development of opportunities for growth and success for its people.
5. Granting permission to question or tinker with the status quo
The best leaders head organizations that receive breakthrough ideas with the most creative and innovative initiatives. They achieve that success because they create an environment where no one hesitates to challenge assumptions. They encourage critical thinking.
Nothing is out of bounds. In today’s high tempo of business innovation, the best leaders realize that clinging to the status quo can be the beginning of the organization’s atrophy and slow death.
6. Achieving life balance
The best leaders are not workaholics. They are willing to invest long hours if required, but they also meet the work vs. life dilemma by making their personal growth and family time mean as much as their professional development.
Additionally, good leaders combat stress with a personal health regimen, along with setting aside time to recharge their energy, while making and keeping personal learning and self-improvement commitments. In fact, many high-impact leaders begin or end their day with an exercise routine. They take time to unplug and recharge as well as learn something new.
Leadership is best defined as a verb, rather than a noun. Good leadership is what the leader does and how it contributes to both the people and the organization. Leaders differ from managers, because managers function best in the status quo. Leaders go beyond that and inspire others to accompany them.
The typical day in the life of a leader is centered around the big picture. A good leader lets go of accepting responsibility for meeting too many priorities. In fact, the best outcomes come from people, and the leader concentrates on building a foundation of personal relations and development of the people in the organization.
Good leaders are always open to new ideas and tinkering with the status quo. Finally, high impact leaders strive for a life balance through concentrating on their family and personal life, with a regimen of reasonable exercise at the end of their busy work day.
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