During a recent seminar, the topic of leadership was raised, and the discussion that followed was quite lively. Here are some of the thoughts and ideas that emerged from that discussion.
What a leader is not.
A leader is not your mom, taking care of all your needs and rushing to your rescue when you encounter a challenge or go astray. A leader is not your dad either — the disciplinarian, the bestower of punishment, the one who pushes you to live up to his potential and the one who sets all the rules. Rules, I might add, that you are bent on breaking on a regular basis.
A leader does not lead through fear, or intimidation, or sarcasm, or guilt. A leader does not lead by begging either.
I remember working for a sales manager who considered himself tough. No weakness would he ever show his staff. However, he confused being tough with being firm. He considered asking for opinions from staff as a sign of weakness. His favourite sales incentive program was the fire sale. Sell, or you’re fired! I eventually did get fired — for not selling his way, a way that would not have worked for me. He conveniently ignored the fact that I had top sales in the department, and had increased the billings on my accounts by 75% in less than 10 months. He was so intent on being tough, he discarded a valuable asset to his firm.
Leaders are not born, they are truly made, and everyone has the potential to be a great leader. It does, however, entail changing attitudes and beliefs.
What a leader is.
I discovered one of the clearest visual explanations of how a good leader works best is to place a piece of string on a table top. I invite the person to whom I am showing this example, to push the string forward in a straight line. It is an impossible task. But, if you pull the string, it will follow wherever you pull it.
Leaders are those with a code of honour to which they adhere always. They walk their talk. They stand firm when it might be easier to give in, even though it would break their own principles. A leader knows that the worst person to betray is themselves. A leader asks nothing of their followers that they would not do themselves. Leaders have no double standards.
A truly great leader is colour blind, gender blind, racially blind, and particularly blind to physical challenges.
There is a marvelous line in the movie “Seabiscuit”. “You don’t throw away a life, just because it got a little banged up.”
Great leaders believe that. They inspire trust, respect, and a willingness to be involved with any project they head.
The ultimate fact is that fine leaders lead by their own inspired examples.