— August 25, 2018
There are several books out there that’ll help you understand what leadership means, what it’s all about, what defines it, and how you can develop your leadership skills. There are even more blogs and articles that can provide you a quick refresher about leadership. However, the unfortunate reality is that the true meaning of leadership still eludes us. And part of the problem is that we’re not able to distinguish between a manager and a leader. So what is leadership and does it mean to you?
In the words of some thought leaders:
- “Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” – Peter Drucker
- “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” – Dwight Eisenhower
- “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” – Steve Jobs
- “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” – Bill Gates
- “Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.” – Peter Drucker
- “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” – Lao Tzu
- “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.” – Nelson Mandela
What Do They Mean?
Extracting the core meaning of what these gurus and leaders are trying to tell us, what I gather is that leaders:
- Influence people
- Are visionary
- Empower people and are selfless
- Are resulted oriented
- Exploit potential
I’m sure you’ll be able to extract many more traits that define leadership from these and other such quotes, however, I’m going to focus on these. The reason for that is because I believe every other leadership trait, be it empathy, decisiveness, confidence and so on spawn from these 5 defining traits. Basically, these 5 are the all-encompassing traits that define and distinguish leaders from followers and managers.
What Leadership Should Mean To You
Understanding what leadership is from the perspective of successful leaders is one thing. But what does it mean for you?
1. Leadership has nothing to do with your position
First and foremost, leadership isn’t defined by seniority, job titles, or organizational hierarchy. That’s just a common misconception that’s hung around for far too long. You don’t need a team of individuals reporting to you to exercise your leadership abilities. The first trait that I extracted was “influence people”. What that means is that irrespective of your position in your company, if you have the ability and can successfully influence behavior that makes people do something they normally wouldn’t do, you’ve just exhibited your leadership abilities.
Similarly, just because you’re at a C-level position doesn’t automatically make you a leader. You’ll need to influence people to do more, align them to a cause or extract their full potential to be seen as a leader.
2. Leadership demands innovation
Leadership isn’t about settling with what’s the norm. It isn’t about being just “good enough”. Leadership demands individuals to be agitated for change. It requires people to challenge the current norm and envision a better future. And for all this it’s necessary that you’re hungry for a change. That you’re creative, innovative and inventive.
What’s also important is that you don’t put yourself down because of the size or impact of your vision. The vision that you bring forward has no limitation. Whether it’s something that’s going to impact only your department, or that’s company wide, or something that’s global, a vision isn’t bounded by the size of its impact. The only thing that holds you back from being a leader is lacking a vision.
3. Leadership isn’t about you
To truly be successful and impactful as a leader you have to drop your ego, personal agendas and hunger for praise. It’s not about you. It’s about the achievement of goals that bring you closer to the vision. It’s about the empowerment and alignment of people. It’s about innovation and creating something that’s greater than its present form.
Also, leadership isn’t bound by particular personality traits. Sure there are some traits common in leaders, however, don’t let that limit you or hold you back. Individuals with varying personality traits and styles have all proved their leadership abilities. You don’t have to be liked as an individual. What matters more is that you’re accomplishments and leadership abilities should be effective and visible. You have to look beyond your personal achievements and remain focused on the greater cause.
4. Leadership comes from the heart
Leadership is an art that comes from within your core. Some people were gifted with it, others learned it, and some just developed it over time. There are several arguments about whether or not leadership can be taught. I’m not keen on getting into that debate, but I do know that leadership isn’t a skill that’s a case of “either you have it or you don’t”. It’s a mindset and I believe anyone can realign their mindset to produce leadership attributes. It’s something you have to be passionate about – a visionary. You’ll need heart for it – empower people and be selfless. You’ll need to be strategic and intelligent – result oriented. It’ll require you to be the catalyst of greatness – influence people and extract their full potential.
So what is leadership? It’s the ability to achieve great things by extracting the full potential of the people you influence and not actively seeking any reward for it. Not the easiest of achievements, though it’s not impossible either. And nor is it just for a select group of people, so don’t discount yourself.