As I read the many great posts on this blogazine (and elsewhere), it seems we often take for granted a key question:
What exactly is leadership?
I want to propose a working definition, and get your feedback on what you think.
I propose this definition:
“Leadership is the ability to influence people so they willingly accomplish the goals you are accountable for achieving.”
6 Key Words
There are 6 key words that I want to analyze in this definition, as they hold the definition in a matrix for all to see, understand and execute (or not).
The word “ability” (as opposed to “talent” or “traits”) implies that leadership is a learned skill. Certainly some people are born with more natural talent or reared in a more nurturing environment so that leadership comes easier for them. But leadership – the attitudes, skills and behaviors that make one a successful leader – can be learned.
If this weren’t true, this entire blogazine – and others like it, and much of what we do as professionals – would be worse than unnecessary.
Just as some people have the physical gifts to be a great athlete, most of us at least have the ability to throw a ball, ride a bike, or ice skate in such a way that we can progress from novice to participant through work and persistence. Leadership is similar; we can’t all be Alexander the Great, but we can all learn to be a competent leader. And developing leadership skills is somewhat like becoming a better parent: it happens from trial and error and by applying what you “know” (the learning) to what “works” (the practical).
All motivation is self-motivation. Leadership is about getting people to do what you want them to do, what they should do, and what they must do. Short of doing their jobs yourself, your responsibility is to “influence” them to do it on their own. And influence is primarily an emotional transaction. It’s not telling and demanding, it’s explaining and convincing.
There are many types of influence:
- or Coercing – among others.
There’s a broad gamut of styles and modes of influence available to the leader, and most have their place, based on the task at hand, the urgency of completion, and the situation you’re facing.
Because of self-motivation, people have to “want” to do something. That “want” may come from loyalty, duty, embarrassment, conscience, friendship, or a number of other motivators, but – regardless of the source – it causes them to act in a way that gets the job done.
The best leaders understand that motivation is most effective when it’s long-term and internally generated, rather than temporary, external or task dependent. It’s not real useful if the follower will do Task A cheerfully, but absolutely refuses to even attempt Task B. The best followers are those who self-manage to do whatever’s required of them because it’s required of them, and because they understand the mission and the necessity of the task.
The best leaders are those who can get their people to see, understand, internalize and act on this knowledge.
The significance of the word “accomplish” in our definition lies in the fact that leadership is about getting specific things done. It’s about doing the work in a specific way, for a given reason, and with a definite end in mind.
Leaders train their people to do the work, supervising and making sure they do it, and then put the work of individuals together to optimize the contributions of the team.
“Accomplish” means the work gets done: on time, under budget, and beyond the quality standard.
Just as leadership is about getting specific things done, those things are most often measurable. And just as you (the leader) have your goals to meet, it’s a foolish leader who doesn’t give specific goals to his or her people, the accomplishment of which achieves your team goal.
It’s fundamental that people have goals to focus their efforts, measure their achievements, and set the bar for next time.
There’s a certain magic inherent in goals that causes people – once they get close to the bar – to stretch their reach enough to make goals that, in the beginning, they had doubts about reaching. And just as goals are measurable, wise goal-setters (and effective leaders) make sure there are consequences to reaching, or not reaching, prescribed goals.
Accountability is one of those “dirty little facts” that make leadership necessary. There is no need for leadership if there’s no destination in mind, when any destination is as good as any other. Real life doesn’t work that way; work is about doing certain things in specific ways to achieve a particular goal.
Leaders understand that and don’t fear being measured and held accountable.
In fact, because “Real Life ain’t T-ball,” good leaders can’t stand those fuzzy, flaccid organizations where practically anything is acceptable, and real accomplishments don’t set achievers apart from “participants.” Just as leaders know they’re accountable – if only to themselves – for goal accomplishment, they teach their people that missing established goals is not an option.
Goal-achievement is the name of the only game in town.
What do you think? Do these 6 key words and the definition make sense to you?
Image Sources: media.photobucket.com/
- Are You a Strong Leader on the Inside? (linked2leadership.com)
- How Solid Is Your Leadership? (kevinwmccarthy.com)
- How Does the Quality of Leadership Impact Employee Motivation? (thinkup.waldenu.edu)