Leadership is a term that gets thrown around a bit loosely nowadays. As one of the most popular topics [Historically] here, this post has been due for a re-write for quite some time, and when we throw in how many examples of leadership there are … and aren’t out there, this is a subject that long deserves to be revisited.
Firstly, leadership is a set of qualities that one possesses to some sort of varying degree … and whatever you might think about yourself, these qualities are not fixed or set in stone. They can be developed, nurtured … grown and improved.
Perhaps the most interesting thing is this! Everyone has them in various quantities, so anyone who says to themselves that they aren’t a leader is both right and wrong.
They’re wrong, because they can be and they’re right because … we’ll cover this later.
So, what is Leadership?
Leadership is nearly always mutually coupled, blended and confused with management. The truth is both are exclusive and separable. You can have a great manager who can’t lead and vice versa.
Leadership is all about the soft skills; the ability to inspire, and motivate. The ability to make hard decisions, but make sure everyone understands why. The ability to find the best compromise even if it means no one is happy. Not to mention courage; to stand up for your staff, to be their shield and to raise them when they need and deserve it … the strength to be beaten and battered.
A leader cultivates trust through honesty and integrity. A leader is someone who people willingly follow, but not follow blindly. Management is about the ‘hard key performance indicators’, to make sure things get done. Ensure correct use of resources, the counselling, coaching, training and development of staff, putting action points into place … getting it done, on time, correctly and safely. et cetera!
Leadership is not a popularity contest!
Its also nothing to do with slinging mud at other people.
There has been no clearer round of examples of this than what can be seen in US politics since … 2015[?] … all the way up to today, from both sides. And now that, all of that has been brought up, there is almost no way to proceed further than to risk revealing ones own biases and values.
Leadership can involve making unpopular or even hated decisions, even when they are done for the right reasons and that can mean being the person that no one likes. It has nothing to do with being popular, even when other people reduce it to that.
Sometimes doing the right thing, means making hard, unpopular decisions, but by no means, does that give anyone carte blanche to make reckless & impractical ones. It also does not in any way allow or authorize anyone to set impossible or unachievable goals. Leadership can be about navigating turbulent waters, but doing so, with measured, responsible, realistic and practical considerations in mind.
Leadership is not about power or authority.
When it comes to leadership, those positions are usually accompanied with a certain degree of control and authority, as well as a very large degree of responsibility. After all, whether you’re a leader of a team, business, or even a country, leaders aren’t just the ones typically appointed to achieve the work or the result, but are the same people who make decisions that can affect, the team, the business up to and including people around them.
Being able to make decisions can be a nice thing, not needing to ask for permission is just as good, but being able to make decisions is one thing, justifying them and being accountable, being responsible for them is another.
Leadership is all about being thorough!
It doesn’t matter what level you may or may not be, any decision you might make will have downstream consequences. Let’s say a decision is to stop a course of work, that will mean diverting resource, including labour and material away from something that might be half done.
Let’s say that decision is to start on something. That results in the expenditure of time, energy and money. But it is not merely the inverse of stopping something else.
Each and every macro level decision creates an incredible amount of inertia, and people do not like being jerked around.
Whether its deciding to renovate part of your home, or pivot to a new marketing strategy, as a leader your job is to be thorough – to work, role play, game out each and every situation and scenario to make sure that you can get to the final goal, no matter how far off it might seem.
In my experience, people don’t have issues with left field moon-shots.
They do have problems starting, stopping, re-starting, twisting and chasing half-baked ideas that come up every other week.
It is about making decisions slowly, carefully and making them once.
Its about being able to communicate
When it comes to leading and getting others to follow and execute, there are few qualities more important than the ability to communicate.
Make no mistake there is a very big difference between being able to talk and drivel, and actually being able to communicate … to explain, define and instruct and actually be heard; to have others know what their roles and responsibilities actually are.
The bigger the vision, the more important communication becomes. Just like responsibility and accountability, transparent and verifiable communication is imperative.
At the highest levels this is one set of qualities that is showing the most rapid of declines, particularly by those trying to drive toward specific goals with incredible cost, with nothing to be able to justify either the course of action or the reasoning behind it.
And if there is one thing you can always count on, it’s a persons ability to sniff out bullshit!
The ability to know when you’re wrong.
I talked about being thorough … being careful, making decisions slowly.
No matter the effort, there are times when despite all the efforts things simply don’t work out. Being stubborn at these times is simply going to make things worse. There are times when doubling or tripling down is just outright idiocy.
More cowbell is not the answer.
There are times when you just have to make the call and admit that you have gotten things wrong.
You never want to find yourself going back and forth, when you’re wrong, you better be wrong in a big way, and make one hard move to correct.
Being wrong sucks, but facing it and dealing with it is the best thing you can do, even when its embarrassing.
It is always better to confront the issue and face facts rather than waste time, energy and money trying to look for a way where you can still be right. It’ll suck, it’ll even be embarrassing, but people will respect you more for owning your own situation, than trying to dig your way out!
To wrap it up, leadership has more qualities than I can potentially cover here. Its taxing, its draining … exhausting, challenging, pressuring … people around you will have ideas, they will test you, you will doubt yourself … you will wonder ‘why?’ and if you don’t, you’re not doing it right!
But there is nothing like the feeling of looking at your team after accomplishing something you didn’t think could be done, something that simply wasn’t supposed to happen, and know, that not only did you achieve something amazing, but that you all had a vital part to play in it … even your own!