Leadership means different things to different people, and is a term thrown around in all kinds of contexts. Sometimes it's interchanged with the word 'management', sometimes it refers to people at the top of an organisation to distinguish them from the rest of the pyramid, and sometimes it's used disparagingly after a fallout – 'a total lack of leadership'.
If you find yourself confused, you may decide to go do a bit of reading on the topic to clarify the matter in your own mind. So you go to your favourite online bookseller and search for books under 'leadership', only to discover there are 101,798 titles currently available. Hmm, not much clarity there.
You might then look to people recognised as leaders to see what traits they have in common. Only there isn't an archetype you can discern from the various leaders you admire. No wonder there is such confusion about what leadership is!
When we created the Leadership Institute we were faced with this same dilemma. How would we define leadership? What competency model would we endorse? How could we help develop leaders without having an agreed model of leadership that ran like a spine through all our programmes?
After much research and debate we came to these conclusions:
- Leadership is a mindset and attitude, not a position
- Leadership is about what you do and who you are, it's not a job title
- Leadership is dispersed. Anyone in any position in an organisation can choose to be a leader if they have a vision for the future, if they engage people in getting excited about working toward creating that future, and they make happen what wouldn't otherwise happen had they not decided it was important.
- Leaders are authentic. Rather than trying to form themselves into a particular mould, leaders recognise their unique strengths, life stories, values, experiences, preferences and gifts that make them who them who they are, and then use that self-awareness to be their best self. They don't try to imitate or copy someone else.
- Leaders learn. They work to improve themselves through reflection, feedback, and self-development but not to become someone other than who they already are; the best version of themselves.
- Leaders model the way. They set an example through their authentic leadership that others find inspiring.
- Leaders challenge the status quo. Challenge is the crucible of leadership. They are constantly scanning the environment to anticipate change, and then proactively adapt themselves and those around them. They look to do things better, and challenge their teams to innovate and improve.
- Leaders are ambidextrous. They are skilled at doing two things at once. They zoom in and out; looking at the detail and the big picture, managing today while shaping tomorrow, and challenging while supporting people around them.
The good news in all of this is that you don't have to wait to be a leader! You don't have to have a personality transplant or a promotion or a degree or change organisations. You can lead now. From where you are. Be who you are. And you can start today.
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What Makes a Good Leader
There are many different styles of leadership and the majority of them are very effective, but despite these different approaches, all good leaders share a handful of characteristics. So, what are these qualities that make a good leader? We are going to take a closer look at some of them including good communication, the ability to delegate and a strong level of commitment to see how these qualities can help to make someone a good leader.
One of the most important characteristics of a good leader is that they need to actually be prepared to lead. This sounds like something that should go without saying, but it is surprising just how many people who are in a leadership role are not prepared to take an active role in leading their team. A good leader does not sit back and observe what is going on, but rather they should be the one making the decisions and making sure that the rest of the team sees them through. You must have the self-confidence to stand by such decisions when you are sure that you are right. However, if you do happen to be wrong you must also own your mistakes and come up with an alternative plan in the event of failure. Your subordinates should be comfortable looking to you for guidance and for that to happen you must take an active role in leadership.
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While it is important for leaders to be hands on and have an active role in leadership, a good leader must also know when to delegate! It is essential that you are able to trust your team to execute your vision. This means allowing them to get involved with various aspects of your plans. Delegating tasks to other people or departments is a very important skill for a leader to have. In order to delegate effectively, you must be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of those on your team so that you can allocated tasks accordingly. This will free up your own time for higher level tasks.
The best leaders are also those who excel when it comes to communication. It is essential for a leader to be able to communicate effectively with everyone on the team at all times. You need to be able to think things through and consider what information is available to others on your team. Are you providing them with all of the relevant information that is needed to accomplish the tasks that they have been set? A good leader must also make sure that he or she not only communicates the appropriate information to the team, but also that everyone understands it. Great leaders are able to communicate in a way that others can engage with. This makes it easier for others to understand what you are saying and to remember it! When your team has a clear understanding not only of the end goal, but also how to achieve it, you will find that your efforts run much more smoothly.
A good leader must also show a commitment to his or her team. You cannot expect to motivate others to put in their best efforts if you yourself are not leading by example. The best motivation for many people is seeing their boss right there working just as hard as everyone else. This demonstrates your commitment to your team and is a sure fire way to inspire their loyalty. It is great if you can not only prove that you work hard, but also that you are fair and do not expect anything of your team that you are not willing to do yourself! A positive attitude will also go a long way to showing your commitment to your role as a leader.
In conclusion, there are many different characteristics that make a good leader. There are a variety of different approaches to leadership, but those who succeed in their leadership role are very likely to exhibit the characteristics that we have discussed her. A good leader has commitment and a positive attitude, knows how to delegate, can communicate effectively and is prepared to actively lead a team.