Thursday, July 21, 2011

What is Leadership?

"Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing." - Thomas J. Peters (American Author and Consultant, b. 1942)

I have been fascinated with leadership since my first involvement as a student leader in college. I quickly became inspired by the concept of leadership and started learning from those around me so that I coudl make a difference in my local and greater community. My leadership journey has has taught me lessons of success and failure alike. As with most things in life, my failures of leadership have taught me infinitely more about who I want to be than my successes. In order to know who you are and who you wish to become, you must also know who you are not and who you wish not to become.

What has always fascinated me about leadership is the emotional connection shared between a leader and those they are leading. Some of my favorite figures in history are the charismatic leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and John F. Kennedy. The connection that these leaders actively develop with their constituents is absolutely inspiring. None of them have been perfect but their legacies continue to endure the test of time.

I agree with Thomas Peters that management is more about arranging and telling and leadership is more nurturing and enhancing but I also think it is more complex than that. At the core of any management or leadership structure is the relationship and at even a more basic level it is about energy and control.

Both management and leadership produce results but leadership has an x-factor that management doesn’t inherently share and that is participation. Management is a title, Leadership is an action. Not all leaders have to be managers just as not all managers are leaders simply because they have power or control.

The sharing of energy and control by a leader happens when the leader sees those they lead as members of a shared community. The leader understands three very important truths:

1. You can not lead if no one is willing to follow you - Leadership without follower-ship is simply someone taking a walk by themselves. Without someone to help you achieve your goals you lose the power of synergy, one of the amazing outcomes of successful leadership. If you have followers and are careful to nurture your relationships with those followers, your synergy is more likely to become sustainable. In order to nurture your relationships you must care about those that follow you. Others can tell when you truly care about their well being, their opinions, dreams, and desires, as well as their development as a leader. Ultimately you must give your follower-ship a reason to trust you and your leadership.

2. You are human and you will make mistakes - Situations rarely are perfect and neither are those who participate in them. When you have made a mistake as a leader the most important decision becomes the one immediately after you realize your mistake. Leadership is not just about doing things the right way, but owning the decision and growing from the experience when they aren’t done well. Denying that you made a mistake in the first place doesn't change the fact that you made the mistake, it just makes you look like you don't care about the effects that your mistake may have had on others. If those you lead perceive that you don’t care about how your actions impact others, they may stop trusting you to make the right decisions. This leads us to our third truth.

3. You must have trust – If there is a breakdown in trust between you and those you are leading, it doesn’t matter whether you are leading them down the right path or not because they will not follow you. A responsible leader considers the outcomes of their actions before they move forward and works as much as possible to do what is best for all involved.

As a member of my local Rotary Club, we us a “Four Way Test” as part of our guiding principles regarding the things we think, say, or do:

1. Is it the Truth?
2. Is it Fair to all concerned?
4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

This process gives us a chance to contemplate how our thoughts, words, and actions might affect others.

I think about the world as if everyone were walking around sowing seeds in the gardens of each others' lives. We can sow positive seeds of love, compassion, and trust, or seeds of hate, selfishness, and fear. Whether we realize it or not, we are always sowing seeds. The ways that we consciously or sub-consciously interact with others affects them in ways we may not comprehend. Whether we smile at a passing stranger, say hello to a coworker, or go out of our way to comfort a friend in need, our actions cause ripples that do change the world around us.

Leadership is simply an extension of the seeds we sow and the affect that we have on others. Each of us has the ability to lead our lives each day in ways that can make the world a better place.

My hope is that the positive seeds I sow will become plants, flowers, and trees that might benefit my community long after I am gone.

Until next time,

B Wallache

“Much of the trouble in the world today is not so much the noise of the bad as it is the silence of the good.”
— Address to 1977 Rotary Convention, San Francisco, California, USA

No comments:

Post a Comment