What is leadership? A question that has evaded precise definition for decades now; and I certainly have no intent to solve this conundrum where answers equal the number of people who attempt such. Each bestseller has new advice, and now and again someone claims deeper thinking on this matter. The best I can do, is to give my opinion and experience on what leadership is, but more importantly, what I believe it is not...
Through the years I have worked hard as leadership trainer and strategy development consultant to determine some common characteristics to leadership. My criteria for such dimensions was that it must be applicable to leaders in government, business, religion, non-profit causes, science, academia or any other sphere where a person has taken leadership. This is what my research produced…
Before understanding the purpose of leadership one needs to understand the purpose of organisations, since no leader can exist outside an organised system. Consequently, without organisation there can be no leadership. The purpose of organisations are to stay relevant and to perform. This is what all organisations do, irrelevant or their sector or industry. Performance is the ability to maintain established cyclic processes and relevance is the ability to stay externally sponsored. At the workplace we mostly refer to processes as operations. This is where we repeat and perfect that which we have done yesterday. In my experience this is a management function. To stay relevant, on the other hand, requires an ability to negotiate sponsorship from the environment who warrants your existence as well as the competence to initiate and execute projects, which ensures the change that is necessary for continual survival. Thus, the purpose of any leader is primarily to influence change and to negotiate relevance. This could be a military General on the battle field, a supervisor leading a team who are developing new prototypes, or any other person who acts as guardian against the kingdom of irrelevance. To define the purpose of leadership seems straight forward, but the question remains, what common characteristics do leaders have?
Over the years, literally hundreds of qualities have been ‘bestowed’ on leaders. Some of the most assumed traits are, pro-activeness; good communication skills; respectfulness; quiet confidence; enthusiasm; open-mindedness; resourcefulness; the need to reward others; creativity, organised; consistent behaviour; delegators; positive attitude; intuitive; well educated; open to change; interested in feedback, just to name a few. Yet, with a bit of thinking, I was able to create doubt on almost all of the characteristics named above. In my research, I could only find two truly common virtues that great leaders must have. These are…
Some leaders might have good communication skills, are respectful, interested in feedback, etc. but many are not. To my mind, the only true characteristics of leadership are vision and influence. All other attributes relate to mere personality preferences and follower needs. This brings me to the next point, which is that much of what we believe of leadership are mere myth…
It is most common of blog-authors and motivational speakers to endorse the ability of leaders to be intra- and inter-personally intelligent. Of all the leadership myths, I believe this one to farthest from the truth. In his book, ‘A First-Rate Madness’, author Nassir Ghaemi draws strong links between leadership and mental illness. All you have to do is pick the name of a great leader and google will prove that there is a 5/10 chance that such person suffered from some type of emotional disorder. Nelson Mandela cheated on his first wife and was married three times; Charles Darwin suffered from severe agoraphobia and had an intense fear of people; Abraham Lincoln, Ludwig von Beethoven, Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Marlon Brando, Jim Carry, J.K Rowling, Ernest Hemingway and Vincent von Gogh are but a few examples of immensely influential people who all suffered from bipolar disease and manic depression; Lady Diana, princess of Wales, had an bulimic addiction and suffered from severe depression; Heath Ledger, Kurt Cobain, Elvis, Michael Jackson and Witney Houston all suffered from drug addiction and suicidal depression; George W Bush, John F Kennedy and Franklin D Roosevelt are only a few examples of American presidents who have been reported to abuse alcohol; and it is recorded that the father of modern science, Sir Isaac Newton suffered from bipolar disorder combined with psychotic tendencies and a total inability to connect with people; Benjamin Franklin was addicted to a mixture between alcohol and opium up to the day of his death; Pope Leo XIII was addicted to cocaine; Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., both made suicide attempts in adolescence and had a number of severe depressive episodes in adulthood. I could go on and on with this list, to the point where it becomes a recipe for insomnia. In the 2013 Forbes article, ‘Why The Brains Of High-Powered People May Be More Prone To Addiction’, author Alice Walton explains, “that the best leaders among us – the most driven, dedicated, and outside-the-box thinkers – are wired a bit differently from the rest.” Two things that we have to agree with here, is firstly, that all the people mentioned above were great leaders in their respective fields, and secondly, that being chronically depressed, suicidal, avoiding people and drug abuse absolutely contradicts the notion of being intra- and interpersonally effective. In reality, there is probably a greater case for emotional dysfunction than emotional intelligence as common factor to great leadership.
In his book, ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, Steven Covey argues that proactive people focus on things that are important but not urgent, whereas reactive people will focus on things that are both urgent and important. Much of the motivational gospel today claims that leaders must be proactive. Yet, great leaders are made in times of mammoth reaction. Winston Churchill was immortalised through his reaction to Hitler in the Second World War; Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein both changed science history when they reacted to incorrect thinking in this field, and today, the most powerful person in the world (Forbes List 2015, December), Vladimir Putin, made social media waves when reacting with large scale attacks against Syria after a Russian fighter aircraft was shot down. In terms of Covey’s definition, I would suggest that leaders are far more likely to be created in circumstances where things are both important and urgent as opposed to where things are important, but not urgent. Thus by nature, leaders are reactive. This explains why leadership mostly creates an immense amount of dependency with those that follow them. Of course, you could argue that many leaders react as a proactive measure, but I would counter argue that even the most proactive action is a reaction to something, thus making pure proactive action impossible.
In the 30 June 2011, Wall Street Journal article, ‘Depression in Command’, Nassir Ghaemi states, “Normal, non-depressed persons have what psychologists call ‘positive illusion’—that is, they possess a mildly high self-regard, a slightly inflated sense of how much they control the world around them. Mildly depressed people, by contrast, tend to see the world more clearly, more as it is.” As stated earlier, leaders change things. Where no change is needed, leadership becomes irrelevant. Mostly this change is the result of being negative about something; e.g., Mandela was negative towards apartheid, Ghandi was negative towards British rule in India; Steve Jobs was negative towards the current state of home computing, etc. A common trait in leadership is that leaders are mostly negative towards the past and positive towards the future, especially if such future is a creation of their own vision.
Leadership implies followership. Thus, by its very nature, people are important to leaders, because without such they cannot exist. Studies have shown that depressed people often demonstrate a higher level of empathy towards others. Earlier I have eluded to the possibility that many high powered people are often depressive, and therefore possibly care deeply about others. There is thus no question that great leaders care and feel deeply for their followers. But do leaders put people first? My research has shown that, although most leaders care deeply about their followers, it is their vision or goal that comes first, even if this means sacrificing the same people that they love. The greatest leaders of our time, including political leaders as Mandela, Ghandi, Lincoln, business leaders and even spiritual leaders did not blink an eye to sacrifice their own people and in many cases themselves for (to their minds) the greater goal.
There prevails a strong romantic notion that leaders are democratic. There are even a number of psychometric tests that aim to verify that you have democratic tendencies, and if so it is professed that you will be a good leader. But, in my research, I could not find one great democracy brought about by democratic leaders. When the South African Government wanted to talk to Nelson Mandela, whilst he was still in prison, fellow political prisoners, outvoted such move, but Mandela nevertheless went ahead. After his release from prison, Mandela’s executive team voted that the Springbok rugby emblem must be changed to a Protea (the official South African flower). Mandela had a vision of uniting the South African nation and knew that changing the emblem of a sport mainly supported by white South Africans could do much more harm than good. Subsequently he made a very autocratic decision to keep the emblem. This decision later proved immensely wise when South Africa won the world cup in rugby on home ground. Similarly Abraham Lincoln was outvoted when suggesting that they should abolish slavery, and neither did Ghandi ask Great Britain to leave India, he told them to go. These are small and mediocre examples of how great men made high impact decisions against the wishes of their constituencies. In fact, I found the greatest democracies of history being established by incredibly autocratic leaders. The mere semantic of leadership implies autocracy. The true nature of leadership is much more autocratic than democratic. Leaders who have left legacy beyond comparison, all very much knew their own autocratic tendencies, and for this reason they knew when to leave. Mandela only stood as South African president for one term, Ghandi refused presidency of India, Bill Gates reigned as CEO in 2000, etc. But, this is a topic for another article.
This is a favourite debate during leadership workshops. The easiest way to answer this question is to revisit our primary characteristics of leadership, namely the ability to create vision and the power to influence others towards such vision. In terms of influence, of course it can be taught, coached, mentored, etc. Negotiation skills training is a good example of teaching people to influence others. Thus we can teach a prospective leader in the art of influence. But can I teach you to create vision? This becomes more problematic, and if not impossible, very close to such. Then there are the circumstantial factors, such as upbringing, problems posed by the environment, etc. Throughout history leadership has been very context specific. Most great leaders were made during a very specific time and within a very specific environment. To answer the initial question, I would advocate that there are leadership characteristics that can be taught, such as the art of influence, but that there are an equal amount of characteristics that cannot be taught such as the ability to create vision. Also, you cannot teach a person to be born at a specific time within specific circumstances and in a specific environment.
Thus far, I have been focussing on international leaders that have influenced the world, but most reading this article will need to understand leadership in a much smaller and localised environment, such as their organisation. I do not think that the character of leadership is any different on any level. I do, however, believe that people loosely use the term leadership for contexts that actually imply management. A lot of the characteristics like emotional intelligence, democracy, positive thinking, pro-active action and people orientation are strong requirements for management. Most books, articles and workshops on leadership are often more directed at efficient management, although it is sold as effective leadership. I am a strong advocate that the one is not more important than the other, and that these crucial elements should be in equilibrium with each other. In essence leadership is about changing things and management is about maintaining things. The former is project-based whilst the latter focusses on cyclic processes. Together they keep the system relevant whilst ensuring that it performs optimally.
To answer the question to what leadership is, I would simply say that whoever you are and within whichever environment you function, the need for change will determine and endorse your leadership behaviour. High impact change such as establishing a new government will require highly disruptive leadership, whereas low impact change such as arranging a year end function will favour a process efficiency approach. It all begins with a clear goal or vision, which is then translated to a strategy, executed by a team, and sponsored by an external environment…
If you are a prospective leader, then the best advice I can give is to find your place of influence and then to make things happen by using what you have at your disposal. Find your strengths, and know that even weaknesses such as depression, peculiar looks, a terrible childhood, etc. can be strengths. Use everything at your disposal as a tool of influence. Danny De Vito used his peculiar body type to become one of Hollywood’s top comedians, Arnold Schwarzenegger used his strange accent as a trademark and Churchill’s depressive personality drove him to immense defeats. Secondly, turn all the energy of those around you towards achieving your vision. Create a powerful team and sell your vision with all that you have. Where your team believes in your vision they will follow and become an army of focus.
In my strategy development and implementation workshop, I work with strategic leadership, which combines leadership skills with strategy development and implementation.
© 29 November 2015 Derek Hendrikz Consulting www.derekhendrikz.com
Great leaders have a unique brand of traits that although unquantifiable, inspire change and question the status quo. It goes beyond charisma and eloquence and is the ability to connect with people on a much deeper level such that they embrace your ideology and make it their own. I believe that skills such as persuasion can be taught and mastered, however leading by example goes beyond such learnings and in order to succeed at being a leader living your truth is the key factor. Human beings are more likely to respond/ buy into the practice than an idealogy
Leadership is multi-faceted.
There is no single conformance rule-book, that can be learnt and applied to every situation.
Each person is different & hence needs to be lead in a style that is conducive to their personality; experience and state of maturity (emotional & physical)
Be yourself & allow others to be themselves too.
By following the basic guidelines around respect; being in-tune with desired need/expectation; and following up on the result (and understanding the reason/root cause of the result, in order to remediate/add further improvements), will provide a framework in which to “be yourself”.
Within this framework, the “real you” doesn’t have to follow the “norm” – be brave enough to be different, provide a different view, challenge what “has always been done”. Don’t sell yourself short – you may have that “bright idea” that no-one else thought of.
Do what “you’re good at”; love “what you do”; reduce the room to justify why you do what you do – others should know/believe that you are fully equipped to fulfil tasks to the required standard & within the required time-frame.
Within this framework, and understanding that we are all different, conflict, in some form, may be evident. The Leader needs to be equipped to handle such situations, resolve the conflict & “move-on”, encouraging others to do the same. (Don’t take on stress or worry about things that are beyond your control – deal only with those things that you can change/keep the same)
In order to perform, one’s emotional well-being, needs to be healthy & devoid of “added clutter”.
The first picture you put on this article really interesting to me because there is one bulb which is 'on' and the rest are 'off' and also facing upwards whilst the rest facing downwards. This to me shows that for one to be leader one has to show some unique qualities and thus the ability to create vision and influence others around you to achieve the intended objectives. With this turbulent business environment, leaders ought to have a vision to stay relevant in this environment.
An interesting read, certainly food for thought.
The definition of a Great Leader as someone with a Vision & the Power to Influence makes complete sense.
All the personality traits that one "usually" hears when this type of question is asked, are personality preferences, yes, but often if in line with the "character of the Team', make the power of influence easier.
Thus my rhetorical thought......Is it really that easy to make a clinical distinction, and sever the 2 schools of thought/areas of contribution...?
An interesting article and yes it has certainly given me food for thought. The article has challenged my previous learnings and view on leadership. Some management books generally tabulate the differences between leadership and management but the definitions of purpose and relevance of organisations and looking and leadership as a project and management as a process starts putting things into a different perspective. Leaders are generally seen as role models who take on challenges they encounter. Leaders are generally aware of the environment that they are operating in, and able to understand and react to the different forces both internal and external acting upon their environment. I don’t think leaders can be referred to as being autocratic or democratic, but it’s the situation or challenge that the leader faces that determines the leadership style. Can we all take on leadership roles at some point in our lives? I believe so and this can in the work or home environment. I am in favour of the definitions of leadership and management described in the article. It is simple yet effective.
To understand the difference between a leader and a manager has opened my eyes to new ways of doing things. To really understand your leader, will give you the possibility to support him or her even more.
I believe leaders are born but still have to work on their skills. It is their job to make important decisions and the way they do this can influence the rest of the company tremendously. It is important to be able to respect such a decision although you might not fully understand it. This is where trust in your leader is important and trust needs to be earned.
My belief is that as a leader, the single most important attribute is the ability to consistently produce desired results. This however can be done in 2 ways, the first being in a autocratic manner such as the style adopted by Hitler whilst the other being through the style of influence as depicted in my view, by Mandela. There is no preferred style and is dependent on the characteristics of the individual.
Through my earlier learnings, the discussion around what is a leader versus that of a manager, can be summarized as follows:
- I often see a manager in a "RED" view with their purpose on achieving the "WHAT". This is primarily focused on things like implementing systems, achieving kpis, performance management etc.
- The leader on the other hand, I view in the "GREEN" context with their purpose being on achieving the "HOW". The leader focuses on the softer skills such as coaching, guiding etc.
As an individual, you cannot be only a manager or only a leader. Your approach should encompass both these attributes with the view of achieving the Vision through your people.
“A Truly interesting read. I agree that every process eventually needs a leader to act as catalyst or disruptor to break the cycle and affect change to stay relevant. When I observe leaders that rose during the mammoth reactions in history I must ask the question: “was the vision they had to influence others to follow born from individualism or collectivism?”
Many claim that the change is necessary under the banner of “utilitarianism” – “the doctrine that actions are right if they are useful or for the benefit of a majority”, but how can the War in Irak and Afghanistan that was fought over control of oil reserves be for the greater good when no initial threat was posed on America soil and tax payers money was wasted? Or whilst we discuss tax payers money working for them building a wall around America…?
I guess I agree with you Derrick that leaders are autocratic. They have a vision that no one else has on the checkered colored game board we call life. So are the relevant? I vote Yes!”
Interesting read with thought-provoking concepts. No doubt that vision and influence are the two most essential qualities required to be a good leader, but I would argue that having the ability to articulate this into how and when are equally important (bordering management traits).
The five mentioned myths of what leadership is not, has definite merit, but may be a bit subjective should not be discarded. In my opinion, these are excellent characteristics to have, or even to strive for and could be acquired or taught over time, for leaders, managers as well as the average Joe Soap alike.
I would therefore also argue that although some people are born with the ability to create vision, the ability to influence is gained through training and experience, and this is where emotional intelligence, democracy, positive thinking, pro-active action and people orientation plays a big role.
As you rightfully stated, leadership is required during times of crisis (when change is required) and management is required to maintain, but both are equally important and cannot be without the other. In my opinion, managers need to continuously “sharpen” their skills and should lead by example to show employees how to manage themselves and when the time is right, those with vision and will, will naturally rise to the occasion when leaders are required.
In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see”
It's an interesting and eye opener article. For real a leader should create vision and influence the same. For people to follow you, you must be creative with a higher level of influence. These are the most unique abilities that came to my mind when I went through this great and awesome article.
I fully Agree that a leader needs to have vision and ability to Influence. The mentioned points have helped me to see things in a different perspective. The points stated are briefly showing the demarcation. A leader needs to have a courage to lead and must be contextually. however, I partly agree with you on the five points. There are occasions where they need to be emotional intelligent, positive, proactive and they should say people first, all depends on the situation and context. unless they say people first they shouldn't be there to sacrifice themselves like getting in to prison but timing is most important.
For me leaders are born with an attitude and a potential that could be enriched or nourished through exposure, interaction with environment, training, internal and external effort. For me it's like you need to have a hardware to install a software to function properly. The hardware is something we got naturally and the software is something we develop through training and gain from the interaction with the environment. if we grow in an environment that is not conducive for us to enrich and practice responsibility and authority then we can't be a good leader. Leadership is time bounded and it must transform in to normality. if leaders continue to be there for longer than they should be, then they became irrelevant and they lose their credit.
we need leaders when we are in need, in a crisis or when the situation force us. we don't need them once those things get back to normal. After that we need managers to keep us going.
To be a leader we need people. People are your main source to have in order to accomplish your vision and be a proud leader. Leaders need to understand and be understood. Convincing people to see things your way can be difficult but time, perseverance and dedication to your vision are key elements. Yes we will risks many things and people too to achieve the goal but the manner in which we do is also very much a factor that needs to be considered. Not everyone - the sceptics - are going to be in favour of your vision but that should not be the reason to give up and walk away. There are going to be bad days but the way we overcome these days and how we overcome them are important. No matter how proud a leader you can be, you still need to be true to yourself and your beliefs.
OUR KIDS ARE OUR FUTURE AND WE ARE THEIR ROLE MODELS AND LEADERS RIGHT KNOW. WE NEED TO BE CAREFUL ON WHAT THEY PICK UP FROM US.
This was a very interesting article indeed, and most definitely makes a person self reflect, and think about how the most influential world leaders became leaders and how this relates our own world, our leaders here today in front of us, leaders don't always put people first, if we look at our current countries situation, it does not look like our leaders follow that example at all, everyone is here to get their share of the pie, and we can see that leaders can be very manipulative and persuasive and most definitely vision plays a big role in it all, Once your vision is seen as the best one and everyone believes in it then your battle is almost won because everyone is working towards one goal and achieving it will be quicker and easier.
Really enjoyed this article and it clarifies allot. It also goes hand in hand with another article I have read about what leadership is not and how you will be able to influence, it’s not about saying the right thing, it’s about doing the right thing. It’s not about knowing what should be done, It is about doing what should be done. It’s not about making decisions, It is about making intelligent decisions and understanding the consequences both good and bad. It’s not about falling on your face, but how you get up again. It’s not about telling people what to do, It is about inspiring them to act. It’s not achieved by reading books, It is achieved by applying the knowledge ascertained. It’s not about your ego, It is about your lack of ego.
It’s not about never failing, It is about failing with a purpose. Being in a leadership role, both articles really make you do some self-reflection.
Been a father of a 3 year old son, I normally take keen interest to hear stories from his mother when I come back from work and especially when I was working for a number of days away from the station. The mother says he gets the remote control for the television and basically scan through all my favorite channels that I watch whenever home... She also tells me that he literally imitates everything that I do and tells his mother that what Dad does. Nowadays whenever home and he draws near me, I painstakingly chose what say and what to watch because the greatest sermon ever preached is way the one lives.
No matter your title, on some level you learn how to lead by jumping in and doing what needs to be done. Formal training is great for learning management, theology and basic leadership skills, but some things you just have to learn by doing. And I think that's encouraging for anyone who is embracing innovative and out of the box ideas in order to share their vision and help people grow in their careers. (Lynne)
The second thing that Lynne shared that really stuck with me was the idea of how a shepherd leads. It's interesting to note that whenever a sheep is pushed, they'll respond with fear or anxiety, but when a shepherd goes ahead of them and calls the sheep by name they follow the shepherd peacefully. They trust the shepherd. They want to follow.
Lynne noted that anyone can lead by agitating, but leading in a way that those behind you want to follow is an art form. It requires getting to know your flock and the people you're leading. It means establishing trust and keeping that trust. And it's important to gently address doubts and fears that may emerge along the way. It's an art form that not only a shepherd must master, but one we need to master, too, if we're going to be great leaders.
Thanx Eric, for explaining through a great metaphor. Yes, I agree that trust is key, especially where you have to lead the same team repetitively. Of course it is one thing to lead sheep and another to lead people. No shepherd would want sheep to think independently. Now, if I was an intelligent independent sheep and the shepherd called me, even out of love, to follow the others, but this was a road that i do not want to travel. Lets hypothesize that I want to go my own road, thus resisting the shepherds call. How would you suggest the shepherd manage this?
Dear Derek, The shepherd needs to deal with that sheep at once by applying some bit of force because it will end up distracting the rest of the flock and get it back on the road.
This also applies to human beings if they cant seem to understand and support the leaders vision, he needs to use an iron hand to correct them immediately or else they can spread the cancer to the rest of the team members which will eventually affect the overall performance.
Interesting article and thought provoking. I firmly concur that a true leader has to have a vision, and most importantly, be able influence others to support and work towards realization of the vision. Otherwise it remains just that, a dream.
Whereas I agree with most of the arguments advanced, my believe is that a great leader should not be an out and out autocrat. Rather, such a leader will have the ability to develop a fine balance between standing for their vision, and allowing democratic space for dissenting views and/or opinions to be freely expressed and fairly considered. The leader's ability to influence creates the difference. Even though there may be initial resistance, which is normal, eventually the leader influences the people to see and support the bigger picture (vision). The leader wins people's support for the vision and with time, the leader gains people’s trust even for decisions that may be against majority's wishes. This for me is the ability to negotiate sponsorship from the environment who/that warrants your existence. I see the examples given of Nelson Mandela's emblem decision, Abraham Lincoln’s slavery decision etc. within this context.
Hi Francis, and thank you for your well thought through comment. Yes, vision needs influence to exist and of course autocratic behavior should never be a first choice. Unfortunately, leaders are most needed where time is against goal achievement. Here is a scenario. You are the military leader of a village. You have received 99% reliable information that a hurricane will destroy your village within the next 6 hours. Your army is loyal to you and you have the power to forcefully and without consent remove all inhabitants of your village out of the danger zone within 2 hours. Yet, the village head refuses and demands that a sacrifice must be made to the gods. This ritual will take 5 hours. 90% of all villagers agree with the village head and has no interest in listening to your arguments. How will you democratically manage this?
Vision and Influence, the key aspects of Leadership. A very pertinent point from the article is to see leadership in the smaller and localised version. Very few of us will become Members of the Board, or National Leaders. Influence is not about your title: Managing Director, Vice President, CEO. You don't need a title to influence, rather you need confidence in your ability to set a vision, and more importantly rally the team or the extended team around you. Influence is not a matter of speaking louder or shouting, Some of the most successful leaders have a quiet voice which is used as a persuasive force. But the Leaders potential is determined by those closest to him. This stresses the importance of the team. Get the best possible team around you, then empower. Remember the bottom line in leadership is not how far we advance ourselves, but how far we advance others.
Hi Graham, and thank you for your thoughts. Most of what you say concurs with the article and therefore I agree with that. Hence, your last sentence has a touch of 'absoluteness'. You state that leadership is either about advancing oneself or others. Your statement might even seem to state that leadership is directly aimed at advancing people, be it yourself, others or both. Let us use a hypothetical example. Susan is a PA to Mr. Smith. She is passionate about efficiency and has a vision of running a highly efficient office. To enhance this vision, she becomes the architect of a new office filing system. She presents this to Mr. Smith who then approves such. Her vision therefore turned to influence. Both primary elements of leadership, vision and influence (to which both you and I agree), are present in this scenario. Therefore, Susan, for that moment, was a leader. Yet, at no point was the advancement of people a conscious or primary concern for either Susan or Mr. Smith. Their goal was directly to increase process intelligence. Now, you might argue that people will benefit from this and where we can get the whole company passionate about innovative solutions, the shareholders will benefit. Yet, at no point was this the deciding factor for those who initiated such. In fact, process efficiency often leads to the cutting down on employee head count. The bottom line is efficiency of process and not advancing people. In Susan’s case, there was not much of a team involved either, which puts a question mark around the necessity of team participation (as an absolute statement of course). I would even be able to give examples where leadership is not even indirectly beneficial to any person. E.g. In 2005, Swedish millionaire, Johan Eliasch bought 400,000 acres of the Amazonian rainforest (size of Greater London), for conservation purposes only. No person, including himself will enter or disturb this land. He has vision and used influence, thus he is a leader, but there is no direct advancement of people, and where you do trace such advancement, it will be very, very indirect...
Good article. Leaders have more impact with followers in reaction to problems or change than they do in taking pro-active action because people look for leaders in times of uncertainty. So the challenge lies in creating the vision and moving people to follow it when everything is running normal in order to stay relevant or in preparation for the change that will inevitably come.
I agree fully with the concept that leadership is the ability to create a vision and more importantly to get others to act in order to reach or move toward that vision. Interesting to note that some very effective leaders in history had the ability to move people to act on their vision even if that vision was far from the follower’s own actual initial sentiments or even moral compass.
Hi Hugo and thank you for the comment. I have two things to reflect in terms of your comments. Firstly, it is as important for any leader to know when to take a back seat, as it is for them to push vision. There are times when things are working well and where strong leadership might even lead to dysfunctional performance. In other words, leadership should not disturb a well working process.
In terms of your last statement, that leaders often pull people into a vision that contradicts the seduced followers own values, it becomes extremely psychological. This is a process where the leader will disturb a current process by creating an immense (almost undefeatable) external threat and then present him or herself as the knight in shining armor that will slay the devilish dragon. In this process, the leader creates a blind dependency coupled with a fantasy of being the only solution to an eminent danger. This even happens in the workplace, where managers create chaos and then present themselves as the only solution (on condition that all blindly and obediently follow them of course). This is a very interesting topic that I could continue discussing in length if you so wish...
What is Leadership? It is indeed a well debated topic. But what does Leadership mean to me? If you look at the word “leadership”, it can be broken into two parts, “lead” or “leader” and “ship”. So leadership is when the captain (the leader) leads the ship (people) in a particular direction at sea (unfamiliar ground). The one can’t exist without the other.
The ship set sail with all on-board, as land no longer fulfilled their needs (change). The captain looks at the horizon (vision) and uses his map and compass (passion) to determine the direction the ship needs to be steered in. He will give orders to adjust the sails for it to catch the most wind to ensure the ship moves forward. At sea there will be storms (challenges), which will hinder the journey, but it is the storms that makes a leader grow, open up new opportunities and motivates one to believe in what you are doing as a leader.
It is like Jack Sparrow said, “This is either madness… or brilliance, and it is remarkable how often those to traits coincide.”
Hi Carla, thank for the great metaphor... Love it! However, all in your example indicates strong dependency on one person. The leader sees, orders, determines, grows, etc. It is well recorded that leaders create dependency. Hence, to further your metaphor, the captain will be important until the shore is reached. Where people establish themselves on new ground projects must make way for processes, influence must be traded for empowerment and in so, management will become more important than leadership.Thus leadership must end to empower people. This will be the case until new change is needed, which then, once more, will create dependency on a leader. And so the spiral goes...
Interesting article. In terms of debate, I definitely believe leaders are born; good leaders that is. Taught skills of course can be adopted but I believe ultimately to create vision there has to be an element of naturally tuned ability in order for the team to truly believe the leader is genuine, motivating and want to perform for such a person. Regarding Emotional Intelligence vs. Emotional Dysfunctionality, I think the two go hand in hand. To be emotionally aware is also to be sensitive to your own pain points and those of others. On the point about autocracy versus democracy, a good leader would hopefully influence and inspire the followers to the point where the necessary (perceived autocratic) decision, was explained and communicated well enough, thus enabling them to agree and engage in any case.
Hi Julie and thank you for your feedback.
In terms of your point on autocratic leadership, please view my comments for Francis Kirema (above).
In terms of leaders being born; if we agree that the primary elements of leadership are vision and influence; then I must agree that it will be incredibly hard to teach any person to have vision, especially since this requires a great deal of internal motivation. However, influence can be taught. Negotiation skills is a good example of such training.
In terms of your point on emotional intelligence and emotional dysfunction, I understand that you are saying that where you conquer your own weaknesses they become strengths. Sadly, this was not the case with many great leaders. Powerful leadership traits are often mere unconscious compensation for dysfunctional behavior (the spin-offs are often great for many). E.g. The Nelson Mandella Children s fund might have never existed if he did not neglect his own children. You might argue that he had no choice, because he was imprisoned for 27 years. But, a psychologist would argue that an emotionally intelligent person would not engage in activity that would endanger his / her family. Please do not get me wrong, I am not condemning the action of Mandela, but rather attempting to explain that the lack of something such as emotional intelligence or risk awareness (Branson) often enables great feats.
Interesting concepts. I believe it's imperative to put this topic into context. Within the outlines of: 1) an international company 2) with a solid culture and 3) established products and markets. Lastly, 4) constant re-evaluation of products and efficiency gain projects to stay relevant in a changing environment. Having teams of leaders globally on various sites, you do not want "leadership" to be visionary if it is for individual gain and definitely not influencing the masses toward that vision. What you do need is a team of great managers and positive leaders who a) have an environment to pool & challenge thoughts. Deciding on one vision forward with influence being channeled as one voice b) a team that acknowledges potential leaders and their influence on the masses (not necessarily within a "top" position) Ensure that those leaders are brought on board first alternatively cut loose as the negative influences causes quicker and more severe damage.
I do agree that leaders are born. I really like the concept of combining the manager/leader roles - allowing the switch between the roles as the changing environment requires.
Hi Menette, and thank you for the feedback. Yes, I agree. You have hit the hammer on the nail. With a company as the one you've described, process efficiency becomes more important than strategic change. Hence, management takes priority over leadership. Only when change is needed do we need leaders to rise. A good rule of thumb will be a 60 /40 relationship (management=60 and leadership=40).
A leader definitely needs to be a visionary. He/she needs to take people from where they are to something better and greater and that is only possible if the followers are influenced and inspired by the leader. Not everyone will want to move on or change and leaders require staying power and conviction to effect change. I believe leadership will be a lonely and difficult position without a great team for support and this is a foundation the leader must establish for success. I believe leaders are born not made as not everyone has the capacity to be a leader. Passion and vision is not something that can be taught. You not only have to see the bigger picture you have to create it.
Hi Doug, and thank you for the feedback. My aim is to find something in each argument that will stimulate debate. However, everything that you say resonates with the given article. The ability to create strong teams is most definitely a primary key to leadership success. Steve Jobs is a great example of this. His colleague, Steve Wozniak, had all the ideas and intelligence but lacked the ability to mobilize the right people around his ideas. But, as I have replied to Graham Dean above, leadership does not always imply teamwork.
Very interesting article.
Agreed with most points. I believe there are some born leaders but many more have perfected their leadership skills through extensive practice & commitment.
A good leader excels in some areas but also understands their limitations, knowing when to take risks, motivating the group and delegating.
Vision is important as the members of a group need to know what they are working towards. - Hard work leads to good results.
hi Sabrina, and thank you for your feedback. I do agree with your comments, especially with the fact that leaders must know whether and why to do something, and who to do such with.
in terms of the possibility of leaders being made, the problem lies with teaching a person to have or create vision. This might prove easier said than done. Influence can, of course, be taught.
What is leadership? Your article covers most of what true leadership really is, however for me true leaders are born with a natural ability to lead and use their own strengths, weakness, passion, dedication and commitment to sell their vision to their teams.
From early childhood, they have learnt something from each bump or failure, with the result is that they are not afraid to make decisions, even if they don't always end up on a positive.
They have a vision to see into the future and coupled with dedication, passion, and people skills, easily get commitment from their respective teams.
A good leader knows all the strengths and weakness of each member of their team. What makes them "tick". With this knowledge, they can use the teams strengths and weakness in the most effective way.
A true leader remains humble and grounded at all times, admits mistakes and never forgets the importance of the team.
A True leader always leads by Example !!!! -
Is leadership a good or bad thing? - Without leadership in any organisation, the "ship will sink". Chaos will erupt as their will be no clear vision or direction.
Is leadership always needed - in my opinion - a resounding YES! Without a leader, the teams are rudderless. No vision and no direction
Hi Noeleen, and thank you for your feedback. in terms of your comments, I fully agree with the first part of your inputs. The last paragraph, where you state that the ship will sink without leadership, might, according to me, be an overestimation of the importance of leadership. I believe that most things, including leadership, is never entirely good or bad. As mentioned in the article, there needs to be a strong balance between management and leadership. I have seen much evidence that where organisations monopolize, process efficiency being much more important than disruptive innovation. Where process efficiency is important it becomes more an issue of management than an issue of leadership; whereas with disruptive innovation the opposite is true. In the given examples of the Roman Catholic Church, the Rolling Stones, Coca Cola, etc, mission, process and management will be much more important than vision, strategy and leadership...
I agree with the statement that no leader can exist outside an organised system. However, isn’t that evident since our entire cultural and social life as human beings is about getting ourselves organised? The power can be given to you by birth, by hard work or sometimes by accident but in order to become a successful leader you must be accepted by your team and make people implement your ideas by giving them clear instructions. I agree that leadership is a combination of acquired skills and natural talent and charisma. You can work on your skills in order to convince people to follow your idea but at the end of the day you have to come up with that idea and motivate people in order to act.
hi Gerhard, and thank you for your feedback. Yes, as you say... Leadership is authorized from the bottom and sanctioned by an environment. Unlike leadership, management is authorized from the top...
Highly agree with, a good leader must have an ability to create vision and influence others to work towards that vision. The leader must share his/her vision so that others will be able work towards that vision.
So for me I will say: leadership is a social process of influencing people work enthusiastically and persistently towards a goal. Good leadership creates a shared vision and inspires people to become passionate about achieving that vision.
Hi Vincent, and thank you for your feedback. one thing that I would like to add is that as the team buys into the vision and takes ownership of what needs to be done to achieve such vision, the leader will slowly move to the back and take on a more managerial role.
I agree with most of your points especially about management and leadership. But not all leaders are born out of desperate or peculiar situations. Some people have a natural aura to lead no matter were they find themselves. They always want to make good better and simpler. They may possibly become dictators when that strength is not managed properly but circumstantial factors like up bring act as natural brakes to manage that strength of leadership.
I will also like to emphasise that self-confidence also plays a big role in bring vision into reality. Again this is also something you cannot teach.
Hi Okonkwo and thank you for your reply. Yes, of course, not all leaders come from burdening circumstances, but without exception any leadership role is taken at a specific point and time. Hence, an important leadership skill would be to spot opportunities. Dictatorship is a good example of a leader who overstayed his or her welcome. Their project was completed and they failed to leave. Consequently a dictator is a leader whom lost followership.
After reading this article, I see now that there is no checklist that we can use and tick off boxes to see how competent we are as leaders. Maybe it will make it easier to look at the tasks and define whether it is a priority and the urgency of the task. To be successful in leading your team you might have to reflect on the way that you approach the team in being confident but not arrogant and to lead and not force the matter. Be skilful in your ability to create the vision and tactful how to influence the team in buying in to the vision. Just maybe when the kitchen gets hot at some stage with the help from the team in buying in to the vision it will not feel so overwhelming.
hi Jako and thank you for your feedback. Yes, I agree, there is no checklist for assessing leadership competency. If, what you are alluding to, is that leadership is circumstantial. In other words, the leader adapts to the context that must be lead, then I also absolutely concur...
This is a very interesting article and I agree with most of the characteristics. I do however believe that a true leader is born. Yes he/she can change and be moulded into a better leader, but the main characteristics of a person "Your true self" is something that will never change. I belief that the main characteristic is influence - some good and unfortunately some bad as well. I also belief that a leader is someone that impacts lives, decisions, situations and leaves a legacy. Yes each person are born with some of these characteristics, but it is what you do with them and how much you can use them to influence and lead. You can have all the mentoring and experience you want, but if your true nature is not that of a leader, if you are not interested in becoming a leader - you wont be a leader. You can only teach and change someone by that much - but a true leader is born and over time they can become an even greater leader. It is the ability to see the bigger picture and what needs to be in place in order to achieve it.
Hi Anmorie, and thank you for your feedback. As mentioned in the article, part of leadership is genetic (the ability to create vision) and another part is learned (how to negotiate support). Yet, I do agree that a born leader would probably be able to learn persuasive skills independently. Thus the desire to execute vision would ignite the need to learn how to influence...
I would agree that leadership is forged in times when things are ‘important and urgent’. In the absence of their own vision in a time of change or crisis, most look to someone else to follow. In order to be a person whom others look to in such times, a leader not only needs to convince others of their vision, but to make that vision a reality by influencing others to take the necessary action to achieve that goal. However, I think we must examine our perception of what behaviours influence others. The common perception is that influence is about being an eloquent and passionate orator. I believe that in the future people will follow those who can lead by example, who can empower others to achieve specific goals, who have social influence rather than hierarchical authority, and who can engage those around them.
Hi Cheryl and thank you for your feedback. What you say is true, there are a number of ways to influence. A mother who diligently demonstrates good manners to her children is influential or a child who picks up all the rubbish in class before he leaves for the next one my, through such demonstration, lead others to follow suite, etc...
Very Interesting article My thoughts.
Agreed that vision is a key characteristic of good leadership and cannot be taught. Influence is obviously also key otherwise your vision remains just that. But for change to occur, people become the main component for success. People buy into your vision and translates it from a mere statement to change at the workplace and total ownership by the people makes the cyclic process ingrained in them, leading to high performance. For a leader to influence others, other characteristics must come into play. Key for me is good communication skills so that one can be understood by his followers, open mindedness to accommodate others ideas which may enhance the vision, as well as confidence and enthusiasm. I also disagree that by nature leaders are reactive. Based on the circumstance (where leadership traits obviously emerge) the situation by its nature may call for reaction (e.g. war, Ebola outbreak, Terrorism attack, factory fire) but when all is quiet and running normally (cyclical process in full gear), it then calls for proactive action which does not necessarily mean reacting to something but creating change that ensures organisations stay relevant, and may even reduce need for reaction.
Hi Florence, and thank you for your feedback. In terms of your point that leaders are not always reactive, the question to be answered; "who is in charge, a person or a process?". People are only needed to take charge in a situation that requires change - reaction. As soon as we move to cyclic operation, the process takes charge - pro-action. The latter is a issue of management and not of leadership...
In my view, the characteristics of a great leader may vary depending on the time, place and circumstance. Although I agree that there are some common traits amongst leaders, our own leadership attributes are defined in that moment. Leadership is about using our current individual traits to create a clear path and vision for our followers that will ultimately have a positive impact in our organisations and society at large.
Hi Lolwe, and thank you for your feedback. I agree, leadership is always contextual, and a great leader will have to adapt to such context. Whether the impact of leadership is always positive, is another debate altogether...
When we look at leadership, and as is in the article posted by the author, we always look at high profile people to dissect, to see what they did that made them stand out, and then try to extract the good qualities, or good stories from their experiences in life. But have we stopped to think what made them into the "Great Leaders"of their time. Who were their role models, their mentors, their coaches, that moulded them into the "Leaders" that make us all want to follow in their footsteps, and emulate their behaviour. Can we not create our own definition of "leadership" by starting with a zero base of ideas, that will make us even greater leaders than the "Great Leaders" of our past.
Hi Udesh and thank you for your feedback. To understand leadership, one has no choice but to dissect those who have demonstrated great leadership. Of course, every great leader has been immensely influenced by less great people, such as a parent, a friend, or other community member, etc. But, leadership is always contextual, and therefore all leadership is always specifically defined in accordance with specific context.
Leaders are positive, Leaders are democratic, Leaders put people first
I see all of the above with the person’s ability to influence. People will not follow a Leader who do not have their best interest at heart or do not have a certain energy/positivizes about him to succeed. Situational Leadership for me is key in that the leader need to adapt to the circumstance in dealing with people/situations. This also differs from competency levels as in a pure technical field the human element can be diluted somewhat where as in a semi skills or unskilled environment high focus need to be given to engage on a more personnel level.
In today’s working environment people need to feel they belong and leaders need to capture the heart and minds of their workforce. "People are assists on Feet"
Hi Brendon, and thank you for your comments. I agree with most of what you say, but in terms of; "Leaders are positive, Leaders are democratic, Leaders put people first", this is more often than not, not the case. E.g., Ii takes a very autocratic person to induce a democracy; the goal is always before people, and often being negative about something incites great movement, etc. I must concur, that manager, unlike leaders, are always positive, democratic and puts people first...