Knowing that I write this blog, my brother-in-law recently asked me to define leadership. We often discuss the actions and behaviors of the various “Heads of State,” political leaders, business executives or companies we see or read about in the news. We analyze and dissect their decisions, the perceived motives and how their decisions and behavior affects others. His purpose for asking me that question was that he was preparing a questionnaire for potential candidates he was interviewing for a senior position and in it was a question he wrote, “How would you define leadership?”
If almost on impulse or a reflex motion in reaction to a given stimulus, I started to answer and then stopped myself. I walked away and told him that I would get back to him. Our family knows that when we both get our “intellect on” we can spend hours debating topics, but this question is an important one. I believe the candidate’s response is a good look into understanding the person and how they will handle their leadership position.
I thought about his question and pictured what the candidates would say in response to that question. Then I thought, if he were to ask that same question to 100 of the world’s greatest leaders or senior executives or middle managers and to even their employees, he would get hundreds of different answers (with common overlapping phraseology) some intellectually or responsively better than others, but nevertheless answers that are generated from one’s conscious intellectual mind. Is there a correct or wrong answer? Is there a single intellectual response that one could give that would encompass the true definition of leadership? Could such concept, be captured in a single phrase or even two or three?
I then reflected on my previous bosses, some were extremely intelligent and some of average intelligence; some who were good leaders and some who struggled with the leadership role. I reflected on the many articles and books I read on those who led great achievements, who created successful stories and built great legacies. I then reflected on myself and my previous leadership roles. I reflected on my behavior, on my decisions and their motivations and then I reflected on my brother-in-laws’ question. In all, this reflection made me tired so I went to bed.
Just to sate my curiosity, while I was having my morning coffee, I went to Dictionary.com and queried “leadership”. The on-line dictionary gave this definition, among others:
lead•er•ship [lee-der-ship] noun:
"the position or function of a leader, a person who guides or directs a group: He managed to maintain his leadership of the party despite heavy opposition. Synonyms: administration, management, directorship, control, governorship, stewardship, hegemony. (2)"
This definition to me, like the term leader by itself, is inadequate. My brother-in-law and I also realized that his question was missing something. The question should be “How would you define good leadership?”
Being a good leader is not difficult nor is it complicated. It is not a science where you need the right formula, the right combination of chemicals, the ideal genetic code or the correct equation or hypothesis. It is not an art where you need the right muse, the right lighting, the right colors, the right composition, the perfect notes or script to be written. It does not require the right mathematical or quantitative algorithms that reveal the optimum qualities. It does not require cosmic analysis or the reading of astrological markers to determine who will be a good leader. It is just not that difficult of a concept or behavior.
Simply, to be a good leader, your ethos must be:
“It is not about me”
Unfortunately, I have seen too many people placed in the leadership position fail and the reasons for their failure are numerous, but here are just a few:
They just were not ready or equipped for the responsibilities of that role;
They changed their behavior because of their “perceived” power over others (toxic environments can destroy a company’s mojo);
They became embroiled in the "politics" of that position and advancing to the next step and not the task at hand;
They became lazy and delegated their work (they reached their professional goal), eventually becoming replaceable, and they were;
They destroyed the culture of the department/company because it was no longer about the company, the employees or the clients; it was about “THEM” and their needs.
What would my staff say of my style? My leadership style has always been and will continue to be “employee centric”, which I believe was/is the key to my success and that of the work we produce. You take care of the employee and they in turn will take care of others in the company and most importantly your clients.
Everything increases and multiplies (mood, creativity, ideas, productivity, support, respect, etc.) when the employee is respected, they are treated fairly and equally, the environment is positive and the goals are clear.
When you begin your journey, know it is no longer about you, but about the vision, about the company, about the product, about the employees, and most of all about the customer.
This is not something that you can "intellectualize", this must be your philosophy, the core tenet of your leadership style. If all of the above is taken care of, so is your future.
The good leaders have known this all along.
Thanks for stopping by.
 Image via: psychologicalscience.org