What constitutes effective leadership? If you ask ten people you’ll probably get a variety of answers. During my leadership development programs we spend a great deal of time defining what leadership means to the individuals in the session.
The simple fact is you can define it in many ways, it almost becomes an individual preference of what each calls a great leader. That’s understandable because different people respond to different things.
We begin by establishing the attributes of effective leadership. We ask each participant to think if a person that they consider to be a great leader. We then ask them to list the main characteristics of that person that makes them a leader. We always get a variety of the same answers:
And many more.
We then discuss each of these traits and decide if their choice of leaders was born with that skill or acquired it. The answer to everyone except possibly native intelligence is they are acquired skills. So the inference is made, ‘leaders are made not born”.
But a lot of people are smart and not great leaders, or honest and not considered leaders, what makes one person with those attributes a leader and another not?
If I look back at my career I can honestly say I met hundreds if not thousands of managers, but a handful of people I would consider leaders. If I were to try and define the difference from my experience I would have to say leadership is certainly defined by getting positive results, but that’s too narrow. I’ve known many managers and executives that got positive results but were hated by their employees. I think it has to go further than that.
To me great leadership is getting the best possible results from all the resources available to him or her, human and capital, by developing focused commitment by all stakeholders on attainment of the primary vision.
Put plainly it means getting the best from everyone and everything through commitment, communications and buy -in.
Now ask yourself the question how many managers or executives have you known or worked with in your careers that fit this profile?
If you are like me it’s down to just a few.
The bigger question is why can’t you name more than a few? If nearly all leadership traits are learned, and well known to most of us, why aren’t there more great leaders?
I can think of several ways to answer that question based on my own experience.
One is ego. People get put into a position of authority and ego takes over. They no longer listen to advice, facts, metrics or much of anything. They are the supreme leader, nobody can tell them anything.
Another is fear. If I commit to a vision it might not work so I’ll allow the direction of the business to be decided for me.
Still another is commitment to results. Many executives confuse being busy with being productive. They over schedule themselves in meetings and micromanage every task. They are “too busy” doing what they feel comfortable doing to do what needs doing.
All of the patterns above lead to poor results. Those poor results are too often the only thing that they delegate well, leading to morale issues, turnover, poor customer satisfaction and more poor results.
My management career spans over thirty-five years and I learned many things good and bad from many people. One gentleman told me something early in my management career that has always stuck. “If you want to be a great leader give everyone else credit for the good things and take the blame for all the bad things that happen”.
I don’t know if it’s that simple but it’s a good start.