Updated: Nov 15, 2019
How good a leader are you and why do you think so? Is it because you just received a raise, or because your boss or your co-workers tell you what a great leader you are? Maybe a pat on the back from the boss for a specific job well done? Your significant other may tell you often how you are demonstrating “leadership” in your personal or professional life, but what does that mean, exactly? We all want to believe that we are good leaders, but a good leader is difficult, if not impossible, to define.
Everyone in the business world believes they can successfully define leadership, but not everyone can agree on what that definition should be. There are literally dozens of measurement tools out there, all meant to help us classify and define the term “leadership.” Yet leadership by its very nature is complex and can’t be defined in a few words. It’s a concept that has multiple dimensions required…simply to define it.
Peter Northouse, a highly rated Professor of Communication at Western Michigan University, has written—literally-- thousands of words about the idea of leadership, and his belief is that the word “leadership” falls into the same category as words like “love,” “peace,” and “democracy.” We know what our own definitions mean for these words, but they mean something entirely different to others.
Let’s think about it. You start with the premise that leadership is a process. It’s not just about how someone performs in their job, but also how they react to different situations and different people. Something is offered, and each takes something away – leadership is a transactional event.
Gaining influence with others is an important part of leadership as well. Influence in this case defines how a leader guides his or her followers. And a leader must allow guidance by his or her followers, as well, continuing the train of thought of leadership being a “transactional event.”
Don’t simply equate management with leadership, however. Many have difficulty in accepting that managers don’t always make good leaders – and vice-versa. If the manager is capable of making needed decisions and acting as a good leader, then they will be considered successful. Managers are often more concerned with authority than with influence management, which is a prime concern of leaders. Leaders can work behind the scenes, because they know that their influence, not necessarily their level of authority, is strong encouragement for employees to follow them.
So what are the great qualities of leadership? You could write several volumes answering that question, but here are some places to start.
A great leader will examine where they lack knowledge or experience and will set out to learn what they need to know, instead of waiting for others to do their research for them.
Successful leaders come into a job knowing they don’t know everything, and will surround themselves with people smarter than themselves in order to learn from them.
Good leaders will get out of their comfort zone and will empathize with the employees.
Leaders demonstrate confidence, knowing that they don’t have to worry about another employee getting “the upper hand” on them, and they also demonstrate self-control – knowing that it’s about working smarter, not harder.
A leader who works a 20-hour day makes him or herself worthless to the very employees they hope to inspire…because of burnout. They don’t multitask, but commit themselves to accomplishing one task all the way to the end and then moving on to the next issue.
The next time you decide to “hang the leadership mantle” on someone, consider the challenges faced and the responses which that person offers to those challenges; emulate those qualities you admire as beneficial. And remember to discard any characteristics that don’t allow your own personal growth and development.