“It is the fate of leadership to be misunderstood; for historians, academics, writers and journalists to reflect great lives according to their own subjective canon.” Nelson Mandela, former South African president and global icon
We all have our own perception of what leadership is, and what the role and responsibility entails. Leaders develop their own style, and are defined by their qualities and abilities. I have enjoyed debating the theory of leadership with both accomplished and aspirant leaders.
The terms “leadership” and “management” are often used as synonyms but have different meanings. Leadership is about inspiring, management is about implementation. Leadership develops, management maintains. Leadership is more about people than systems, more about trust than control. Leadership is a vision, management a view. Leadership looks at the horizon whereas management looks at the bottom line. A leader originates, a manager imitates. A leader focuses on the challenge, and a manager accepts it. A leader needs to be effective, a manager efficient. Leadership can be called the ability to get others to follow. Managers do not always need to accomplish this.
Leadership is a journey. It is a voyage of discovery that starts with unveiling your own potential, then developing it so that you can do the same for others.
Leadership is a mindset. Individuals can and do emerge as leaders in diverse environments and with varying roles and responsibilities. Openness to experience is vital in developing the right mindset to become a good leader. Leadership is not changing the mindset of your team but cultivating an environment that inspires and encourages everyone to be the best they can be.
Leadership is a responsibility. It is not influencing others to do something that they do not believe in, but giving them insight into why they can believe. It is not taking them on a ride, but letting them be guided to develop their own special qualities that will inspire them on their personal journeys, with both the individual and the team benefitting along the way.
Leadership is the ability to empower. It is not just a position of power. It should never be considered as power over people, but instead as power that exists between people. Those who work towards achieving success taking into consideration the needs of each individual team member are often more effective than those who consider themselves in isolation. The power of leadership should be used to empower the potential of the individuals in a team for collective benefit. It is interesting to note the types of power that exist. They range from professional position power (because you have the job and the title you have the power), to executive power (hierarchical power), the power of reward, the power of possible punishment, the power of expertise, charisma and association (e.g. the second-in-command), and information power (you matter because you are in the know).
Leadership is a philosophy of growing others and therefore, a privilege.
A leader needs a community. In the modern working world many of us spend a major portion of our lives working for an organisation, which could be termed a community. It provides security, protection, maintenance and a feeling of unity or belonging – exactly what a community provided in historical times. We all want to feel that we belong and that our contribution is recognised. This starts with the leader. Leaders care for their community. If they are committed and communicate well, followers will gravitate to them. Leadership is relationship-based.
A leader evolves. It is interesting to note how often true leaders emerge within informal organisations. Their own qualities, how they react to the demands and challenges of the community, and how they communicate determine how an individual can rise through the ranks and be an unofficial leader.
A leader has influence. A leader has persuasion, power and control with the ability to influence. An individual leader is the one the team members turn to for decisions, for support, for trust. The necessary characteristics are only noticed when individuals arrive in positions of authority and trust. So often people don’t set out to be leaders, but because they accomplish the above, and most importantly express themselves efficiently, they reach leadership status. This could be knowingly or unwittingly.
- is principled and fair. Favouritism is unacceptable, yet sometimes difficult to avoid. It is also difficult to treat everyone the same, but not impossible.
- genuinely practises good corporate governance, leading by example. It should be “do as I do”, rather than “do as I say”. Transparency is essential.
- is consistent. He cannot inspire his team one day and lambaste them another. Instead, he needs to ensure that the team understand what is required of them, and that they have unequivocal support.
- shows integrity, when words match deeds. He is honest with himself, and with other people.
- needs to have humour – adding the element of fun to work makes it better for everyone. Humour, when used appropriately, is a good leveller and can create positive cohesion in a team.
- has a sense of abundance, is generous in giving of time, information and support.
- is positive, and is able to encourage positivity in his followers. He needs to make his team feel good about themselves.
- displays confidence. He should be confident of his abilities and of his team. He needs to do whatever he can to build the confidence of his team.
- has sufficient knowledge to know what questions to ask, and of whom.
- demonstrates the wisdom to know when to stand up and speak out, or when to sit back and listen.
A leader needs to initiate, invigorate and delegate.
Authentic leadership is leading by example. Accountable leadership is displayed by a steady leader who makes every effort to be hands-on. I advocate asset-based leadership, making the most of what you have to influence those around you. A good leader is brave enough to appoint people who are better than they are. An exceptional leader is marked by those on whom they make their mark.
Brand, leadership and high performance facilitator, Jenny Handley, has her own weekly column in the Cape Times. She inspires delegates to identify their potential, and to then develop it. Her latest book, Raise your Leaders™ is available as an in-house leadership academy for companies. Raise your Game® (co-authored with Gavin Cowley) and Raise your Profile, were bestsellers… www.jennyhandley.co.za.
Published January 2014