This blog post is being released on the first Monday of the first month in the new year of a new decade. No better time than that for a fresh look at leadership and, more specifically, at how YOU can lead in all areas of your life.
This new CONNECT2Lead series, Words to Lead by, will help you get that fresh perspective. Each week, we’ll offer quotes from leadership thought leaders to describe what it means to lead and how to do it more effectively. We’ll also talk about specific words that are associated with leadership qualities, behaviors, traits, characteristics, and choices.
Our aim in this series is to explore many facets of leadership. Your input will help make this more thorough and comprehensive. Together, we can create the “definitive definition of a good leader.” That means it will be:
Definitive: Most reliable or complete; serving to fully define or specify; having a fixed and final form; satisfying all criteria; fully developed or formed. Absolute, ultimate, supreme.
Definition: The act of defining, of making something clear or distinct. Sharpness of an image, clarity, precision. Specifying the essential properties of something or the criteria which uniquely define it.
Good: Satisfactory in quality, quantity or degree. Of high quality, excellent. Full, adequate, commendable.
Leader: A person or thing that leads; a guiding or directing head. A person who rules, guides, or inspires others. One whom others follow.
Let’s dive a little deeper into the meaning of that last word, leader. The word “leader” is often confused with other words, like manager or boss or elected official. None of those titular or hierarchical roles automatically imbues an individual with the ability to lead others. Conversely, there are many who lead without any formal designation of rank or authority.
Leadership is “the art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations,” according to researchers and authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. This implies that leaders do certain things that cause others to willingly choose to follow them. It suggests that these followers are dedicated to a cause or unifying purpose.
Bernard Montgomery, a British military hero, takes this a step further and says leadership is “The capacity and will to rally people to a common purpose together with the character that inspires confidence and builds trust.” Montgomery layers in qualities of a leader in framing what leadership is all about.
Suffice it to say that leadership is complex, nuanced, and unique. It’s not the same as management, command, authority, rule, governance, influence, or superior rank. To be a leader, then, requires something more than a job promotion or appointment. It’s about the person doing the leading, not about the circumstances or recognition that position that individual “above” others.
The World Needs More Good Leaders
In recent years:
- CEOs and HR executives consistently rank the need for stronger leaders and leadership development as the #1, most urgent and most important human capital need in their organizations.
- There were more resignations of CEOs in 2019 than in any year in history. More than 1300 CEOs left their roles with big companies despite strong financial performance.
- In the political arena, corruption and accusations of corruption abound. Worldwide, there is a yearning for integrity and genuine representation vs. self-serving choices made for political gain.
- Entertainment, too, is experiencing gaps in leadership. Studio heads, producers, media executives, sports team owners, actors, celebrities, and others have been called out for behaviors unbecoming for role models and influencers.
- Even education isn’t exempt. You can find unsettling stories every single day about teachers, professors, higher ed officials, textbook publishers, and others who’ve made immoral or illegal choices. We entrust our children to these individuals and expect them to act responsibly in the leadership choices they make.
Finding solid, reliable examples of good leaders isn’t easy. In a world that is increasingly complex and rapidly changing, we need more leaders. At a time when there is a leadership gap (at crisis proportions, according to some findings), leadership development is more important than ever. But here’s the dilemma:
- Companies aren’t developing leaders.
- People are leaving companies because they aren’t getting development opportunities.
- Without internal programs to develop emerging leaders, companies are forced to fill senior roles by conducting expensive, protracted executive searches and to hire externally.
- Since there are so few companies providing leadership development, the candidate pool of strong leaders is very small. This drives up the cost for hiring (supply and demand).
- Ultimately, there are not enough good leaders to go around.
That’s why we’re all stuck with mediocre managers, unexceptional executives, and lackluster leadership.
The bottom line is that the world needs more good leaders. In every realm of life, we are all looking for leadership that mobilizes us into action for a purpose we care about.
But What Does It Mean to Be a Good Leader?
That’s a fair question, and it’s an important one. It’s the one we’ll be exploring throughout this series by looking at Words to Lead by.
It may help to consider the origin of the word “leader.” From its first use, in Middle English, “leden,” the word meant “to guide.”
A guide is someone who assists others in traveling through unfamiliar areas to reach desired destinations. Guides accompany travelers to show them points of interest along the way and explain their meaning and significance. Guides help travelers navigate rough terrain and avoid dangers. They clear the path and make the journey easier.
“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” - John C. Maxwell
Good leaders do the work of guiding others to a place they’ve never been before and want to get to. They see the future possibilities and clear the way forward so others can see those possibilities, too.
Good leaders don’t leave people behind. They don’t charge forward without others. They mobilize others and continually inspire them to strive toward the destination.
Good leaders don’t wait around for others to guide them. They take the initiative and demonstrate the courage and fortitude to make things happen. They seek opportunities and are restless for change that will positively impact others. Good leaders are not complacent.
Good leaders are also focused on the common good. It is possible to lead people astray and to have bad intentions. Hitler, for example, was effective (for a time) in leading people to a place they thought they wanted to go. His misrepresentations and propaganda masked his nefarious plot. People were deceived. By contract, the genuinely common good is the focus of good leaders.
But this is just a start. There’s so much more to being a good leader. That’s why this series will take months to definitively explore the topic. It’s why you’ll want to return each week to the CONNECT2Lead Blog for more Words to Lead by.
No Definition of a Good Leader Would Be Complete Without…
No definition of a good leader would be complete without YOU.
That’s right, it’s all about YOU.
Every person has the ability to lead. Every person has been a leader and will be a leader again. There are times when others turn to you, watch what you do, wait for your example, or pay attention to your reaction. In those moments, you are a leader. Like it or not, know it or not, you are a leader.
If you haven’t given deliberate thought to being a leader, you could inadvertently be leading people to a place you never meant to take them. You could be misleading them if your actions don’t match your intentions or if you are inconsistent.
Part of being a good leader is being intentional as a leader. Leading with intent means you pre-determine and commit to:
- Understanding where others want/need to go.
- Knowing why others want to get to this new place and what’s in it for them when they do.
- Making the difference you want to make in the world, based on your values and beliefs.
- Building leadership skills and qualities that make you more effective in leading others.
- Checking in with yourself periodically to stay on course as a leader.
If you’ve never thought about these lofty ideas before, you may wish to spend some time considering your own Personal Leadership Philosophy (PLP). Senior leaders in the U.S. military and elsewhere contemplate questions like these and formally craft PLPs to determine and convey who they are, what they stand for, and how they will lead. Click here for free examples, an infographic and article, and a step-by-step process for developing your own PLP.
It may, at first, seem indulgent to focus on yourself as you develop as a leader. You’re absolutely right to consider the needs of others when you lead. Don’t worry, in this series we’ll get to everyone else soon enough! Before we do, it is okay and essential to be introspective and to fully understand who you are and how you will show up as a leader.
In fact, this is one reason why the word “art” is an apt choice in the definition of leadership that says it’s “the art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations.” Art is personal expression. You will lead in your own way, unlike every other leader. While you’ll use the same tools and hone your technique to continually grow as a leader, it will still be an expression of who you are and the difference you want to make in the world.
As you work on your leadership (an art), you’ll also identify opportunities to improve in your management (more of a science). For those times, you’ll want a companion course that blends leadership lessons with management training. Workplace Conversations, available online for individuals or in remote and on-site workshops for teams, is the signature course from People First Productivity Solutions that wraps it all together.
Your work on YOU as a leader will be unique to you. Take your time, access the resources you need, and come back each week to the CONNECT2Lead Blog for more Words to Lead by.