We often confuse leadership with management skills.
We think that if someone is a good manager they will probably have good leadership skills. This has resulted over the years in great sales managers being promoted to VP of sales and great product engineering managers being promoted to VP of engineering, only to fail in those positions. There are many definitions of leadership – Webster defines it as “the power or ability to lead other people”, but for most people there is a lot more to it than that.
While there are several definitions that I like, probably my favorite is:
“Leadership is inspiring others to pursue your vision within the parameters you set, to the extent that it becomes a shared effort, a shared vision and a shared success” (Zeitchik, 2012).
Good leaders exhibit the following:
Help people achieve things they didn’t think possible by effective realization, use, and application of their gifts and talents.
They are humble and empower the people they are leading to be bold as they motivate each member of the team to accomplish great things.
Give credit to those under them rather than taking credit for themselves.
They lead not by intimidation or title, but by building consensus in the team around a defined set of goals.
People follow and are inspired by good leaders because good leaders influence those around them by the work they do, the life they lead and the commitment they exhibit.
Are good leaders born... or made?
While one could go on even further to describe what good leadership is, we need to answer the question – are leaders born or made? I would suggest a little of both. I’ve found in my career that while there is an endless supply of leadership training and books available to those who aspire to be leaders, there are also aspects of one’s personality that will influence the quality of their leadership. Some of those aspects are sincerity, beliefs, values, ethics and one’s basic character. Without these being in the plus column one would find it very difficult to be a good leader that others wanted to follow. Can people be leaders and still have many of these aspects of their personality in the minus column? Of course, but I would suggest that they would be leading more from the position of title and intimidation rather than a desire on the part of their team to follow.
I don’t, in any way, want to downplay the importance of study in the improvement of one’s leadership skills. In order for people to follow, they must be confident that you know where you’re going. A lost sheep does not have much of a following.
Good leaders realize that they may not have all the answers and as a result surround themselves with the best talent for the task at hand.
I’ll never forget an incident that happened to me many years ago. Another member of the executive team, that had interviewed a final candidate that I was going to hire to head a new department we were starting, came up to me and asked if I was concerned about hiring this individual because of how smart he was and that he might show me up. I laughed and replied that I wished I could hire a whole team of individuals as smart as this guy was because he was going to really make me look good.
Good leaders are not afraid of having strong people around them. To the contrary, they take pride in developing talent that will fill the needs of their organization going forward.
In closing – one must remember. Different people require different styles of leadership. Take time to know the people you are trying to influence and motivate. Apply the style of leadership needed by each individual based on their personality, experience, emotions and knowledge.
Make it your goal to make people great as you accomplish great things.