What is leadership?

Great leaders are creative, decisive, and charismatic. Strong leaders understand what is important to them. They are strong at persuading and communicating the vision, which they want others to have. Great leaders display personal mastery and passion for what they lead. They are creating team learning while keeping everyone moving towards a similar vision. Great leaders are system thinkers. They understand the implications of their decisions and actions on the overall system, which they lead. Leadership is about creating and motivating the change which needs to occur.

Great leaders get results

Great leaders know how to manage their time. They continuously develop their personal skills. Most important, great leaders know how to make others, they lead, feel important. Think of a leader you worked for who made you feel good. This is the effect great leaders have on others. Great leaders think about the affect of the decisions they make. Great leaders are good at coaching, which tends to occur in private and demonstrate high integrity. Great leaders are often great communicators too. People know where they stand with regards to performance and plans. Great leaders know how to celebrate team success and, as a result, build great teams in the process.

What are the different styles of leadership?

Different people react differently in leadership positions. Perhaps you had a leader who was very fair and democratic. These types of leaders put an extra effort to ensure people are well informed and are part of the team. At times this type of leader may even act as if he or she is in service to others. Leaders like this are values centered. They let everyone know that what they believe is most important either through their behavior or what they say. Leaders of another type are more structural and task focused. These leaders focus on the task at hand. The way things are done is more important than the way people feel about how things are done. And, there are leaders who are authoritative and perhaps political at times. What is most important to these leaders is that they are in charge, and their actions reflect how they will benefit most. In my experience people appreciate those leaders who show interest in others, communicate well, listen to their employee, and are willing to make changes based on input from each person.

Who are the great leaders?

There are many, and I have my favorites. I remember in the late 1990s meeting with Jeff Bezos at his Amazon headquarters in Seattle. In those days people were skeptical how far he could take his little on line book store. While we met and discussed with his staff some partnership ideas, Bezos had an opinion about everything, and he was very good at explaining how all his ideas linked to the bigger vision of Amazon. Jeff Bezos was a teacher and extraordinary strategic thinker. Although his vision was big, he was also good at some little things and operated in a very methodical way. Great leaders like Bezos are not afraid of making decisions, taking action, and learning by doing mistakes. I also think Mother Teresa was a great leader. She was a role model for doing what she loved. She never accepted limitations and never strayed from her mission of helping the poorest people of India. This is what a great leader must do, clearly define what you want to accomplish and never stray from the mission. Bill Gates, a founder of Microsoft, is also a great example of a leader. He combined vision, passion, and customer orientation to make the computer industry what it is today. Great leaders have passion and channel into worthy causes. Perhaps not as well known, Li Ka Shing is one of Asia’s richest individuals. He tells people he never plans to retire and knows his priorities. He demonstrates high integrity in all his business dealings. These are all important elements of strong leadership. Finally, Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Computer blends a charismatic quality with vision and strong sales skills. Having a vision is important but being able to sell the vision to others is equally important. These leaders are examples of great role models and provide specific examples, which you can follow to become a great leader of others too!

What is the difference between leading and managing?

Leaders provide vision and inspiration while helping to motivate others towards a common goal. Leaders are focused on creating, facilitating ideas and opinions from others. Strong leaders promote collaboration not competition between members of the same team. Most of all, leaders sell tickets for the journey! Management is different. The same people should aim to be good at both but this is often difficult. Mangers need to focus on driving the bus. Strong managers should be focused on planning, organizing, and monitoring. To manage requires subordinates. One can lead without necessarily having subordinates. Sometimes they have a short term view and need to be results oriented. Leadership and management are both needed for organizational success.

How do you develop leaders?

First, let’s look at three categories of leaders: those, who perform well as leaders; those, who don’t; and those who want to be a leader someday.

First category’s leaders already lead people and enjoy what they do. This group just wants to continue to do what they enjoy. In many cases great leaders have their abilities and interests aligned. The work they do fits their self-image of themselves and their role at work. For the second group of leaders who are not doing well the story may be different. It is possible that for this group they may be a misalignment of challenges and personal skills. It is also possible that these leaders are just working under a broken system, which is impacting their ability to get anything done. Finally, this group just may have poor role models. This group needs coaching, education, and maybe a re-evaluation to find out what is not working. They may need a change with support! Leaders from the third group, whom I call emerging leaders, are not leading today, but they are motivated to take on more leadership responsibility. This leaders need more opportunities, education, coaching, and some apprenticeship or transition time into new opportunities.

What to do to find new leaders?

Inventory the team. Identify the right combination of necessary skills. Identify strong leaders who have these skills aligned with their interests. Find out who wants to be a leader as not all people are interested in leading others. Finally, create new organizational opportunities for new leaders.

Leadership is possible!

There are many models to become a great leader. It starts with the internal motivation to lead others, the knowledge to do so, and the opportunity.

Learning summary:

Decide if you want to be a leader of others. Then think about what you want to lead and why. Identify what new skills you need to acquire now to succeed. Take actions to move towards more leadership opportunities.

Craig Nathanson


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