I recently took a personality test that identified me as an ‘inspirer.’ Now this wasn’t a test that pops on your Facebook page occasionally; it was a legitimate tool I was considering using for a training on leading without authority. A couple of days prior to this, I had received a call from a client of ours. They asked me if I would be willing to submit a proposal for a presentation that would teach people different ways to lead even when they have no legitimate authority to do so.
The request got me thinking. What is it that causes someone to become a leader? Does it really have anything to do with a person’s authority level? Can anyone be a leader? We obviously know there are all types of leaders, but can anyone truly lead? And what is it that causes some to fail miserable at this task. Ah ha, maybe that’s the answer right there, they see it as a task – a job responsibility
What is Leadership?
So let’s get to the topic at hand – ‘lead’ in leadership (and I mean the metal, not the verb). It is my belief that the concept of leading has become stale in recent years, and that old-style leadership tactics such as dominance, or being solely driven by results, while maintaining an untouchable façade, no longer produces the desired outcome with the current workforce, nor will it work in future. In short, leadership is heavy.
It’s seen as a responsibility on a job description and for many it reads as such, ‘must lead the efforts of the department…’ But what does that mean? In this case it simply means to head up or organize – see what I mean by heavy. In all actuality though, if I asked you to think about someone you considered to be a great leader and to write the characteristics down that made the person a great leader, I bet it wouldn’t consist of mundane tasks at all. It’s not hard to see that there is a disconnect between the conceptual idea of ‘leader’ and the duties one performs as part of the job description. The true act of leading is about convincing others that you are the right person for them to follow.
Building on that thought, we must agree that there is a difference between a supervisor or manager and a leader. While the supervisor or manager leads by title, it is the latter that speaks to character. Character, which Zenger and Folkman in The Extraordinary Leader, list as one of the five critical traits of a leader, is the linchpin in this formula. Without character, leadership simply becomes a verb – ‘to lead.’ Without character, Martin Luther King, Jr. would have just been the guy at the head of the line, and John F. Kennedy would merely have been number 35.
There was much more to these two men that caused them to be considered leaders of their time.
The Weight of Lead-filled Leadership
Much like a general in an army, a ‘command and control’ style of leading simply provides a short-term jolt to productivity and minimally impacts morale, which is a longer driver of commitment and dedication. For many, this type of rough-and-ready leadership still exists today; however, I’d like to suggest that the new workforce is demanding more from its leaders.
The newer generations in the workforce require that leaders must be willing to flex their style to the needs of the individuals they lead. In our communications training we call this “baiting the hook to suit the fish.” Many would say it’s common sense that you use different kinds of bait depending on the type of fish you want to catch, so is it farfetched to believe that you might use different styles of leadership for different types of employees?
In today’s work environment the heavy style of leadership – one that is purely results driven and that doesn’t believe in all that ‘touchy feely stuff’ – has begun to take a toll on employees. People are less committed to their employers now than ever before, and a majority has lost trust in the leadership of their organization. Our focus must now be on how to become the leader that our employees need us to be.
There is no magic bullet when it comes to leading others. It can be done a number of different ways, and with a number of different tactics, but one thing is for certain, you must believe in the people you are leading, otherwise you’re simple the “lead” that’s slowing them down.
Part two of this series ‘How to Get the Lead out of Your Leadership Balloon” will discuss the different characteristics a leader must possess no matter what position they hold within an organization.
In the meantime, I invite you to engage yourself in the conversation and share your leadership thoughts. What leaders have influenced you along the way, and what was it about them that captivated you?