It's not the role, it's the goal
It seems fairly clear that there is no single widely-accepted definition of leadership. We can, however, look at six fundamental points that offer insights into our personal leadership practice.
- Leaders are made, not born. They are made by themselves, more by their own life experience and high levels of self-awareness than by external factors. Leadership can be learned.
- Effective leaders all seem to share the quality of rugged determination with the ability to overcome self-doubt. This requires the capacity to unlearn and reflect on mistakes, as much as to learn.
- The ability to influence and engage is crucial. Without followers, there can be no leaders.
- Effective leaders are not necessarily loved or admired. Popularity is not leadership; results are what count.
- Effective leaders are highly visible, in different ways, depending on the context.
- Effective sustainable leadership is about responsibility and followership. It is not about rank or position, title, privilege or money.
It has been said that effective leaders know:
- who they are
- their strengths and how to deploy them
- their weaknesses and how to compensate for them
- what they want and why they want it
- how to communicate this want to others in a way that gains co-operation and support
- how to achieve their goals.
So, who springs to mind when you think of great leaders?
In business, it has to be Richard Branson, entrepreneur, adventurer, icon and founder of the Virgin Group, one of the world's most recognised brands. Always true to himself and his values, when asked to describe his leadership style, Branson stated, " Rule-breaker – because I never learned the rules in the first place. To change the game is at the heart of what Virgin stands for", and his three core principles of leadership are listening, learning and laughter – listening to guests and employees; learning with some of the world's most inspiring and inspired people; and laughter, passion and enjoyment for what he's doing.
Probably not immediately thought of as a leader, Malala Yousafzai is a leader who has been made by her life experience. She first stood up to the Taliban when she was 11 defending her right to education. This dogged determination and belief resulted in her being shot four years later while on the school bus, a senseless act that stunned the world and fueled her resolve, drawing many to her cause. Now at the age of 20, Mala has already won the Nobel Peace prize for her work "against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education" and she is about to continue her education at Oxford University.
The importance of EQ (Emotional Intelligence)
It is clear that leadership is not, first and foremost, about IQ; some of the cleverest people turn out to be the least successful in leadership roles. It is the emotional dimension that is more critical.
Daniel Goleman’s research in this area reveals that the ratio of EQ (emotional quotient) to IQ in leadership roles is 85:15. In all other jobs, Goleman shows this to be two thirds EQ to one third IQ. In short, key people in all sectors need twenty-first century EQ capabilities. At the heart of this is connecting with others to release the talent that will deliver critical results.
It has been said that a leader is someone who is willing to lie down for those they believe in and will be picked up by those who follow them. This requires the passion to push themselves to the forefront and sacrifice themselves for the good of the cause. They are continually inspired by the cause and the people and in so doing inspire a strong following by their behaviours and actions.
This is clearly demonstrated in the life and leadership of Nelson Mandela, the first South African president elected in fully democratic elections. He was the main player in the anti-apartheid movements in his country and served a lengthy and often brutal prison sentence because of his work and beliefs. However, this actually motivated him to devote his life to uniting his country, which he successfully managed to do after his release from his almost 30 year prison sentence. His outstanding leadership characteristics were his determination, persistence, focus and will.
So effective leadership is a learnable capability that today is often anchored in the following key skills:
- the ability to build effective relationships
- knowing how to influence without coercion and power
- the ability to demonstrate to others the benefits of commitment
- being prepared to take responsibility, while offering other contributors a responsible say
- the capacity to provide a tangible, easy-to-understand vision of collective success – one that all stakeholders can grasp and support.
Great leaders put things into context and provide clarity around how the vision will be achieved.
Leadership is not only about big picture thinking, motivation, inspiration and transformation; plans, pathways, clear objectives and a sense of how individual people fit into things are also critical to success.
- brief people on expectations
- set boundaries
- agree performance objectives
- offer the requisite support for attainment and development
- provide ongoing feedback on achievement and challenge
- tackle the difficult issues as they arise.
As they do all of these things, successful leaders are also exercising their skills in deep listening, opportunity sensing and building team morale and sense of team spirit while challenging and adapting appropriately. Their leadership succeeds through an ability to balance priorities within a positive and optimistic atmosphere while managing dilemmas and taking hard decisions when necessary.
It’s important to remember that whoever sits at the top sets the tone. Leaders have the choice of what that tone is and how it is set, and will also be held accountable for how their choices are exercised.