Understanding Real Leadership

Understanding Real Leadership

Put That Leadership Book Down, It Could Hurt You!

From the Mouths of Leaders

Spend enough time in leadership roles or around leaders in organizations and you will hear people say things that will make you turn your head. Sometimes it’s because you have heard a strong leader give exactly the right message to the right person at the right time.

Those moments can be transformational.

Then there are times when you hear leaders say things so ridiculous that you have to turn your head to see if they were joking. Not long ago, I heard a senior executive make a comment that fell in the category of the latter.

One of her staff members was leading an initiative that was transforming how a business unit would function. She said this:

You’re the leader. You stick to the strategic level. You don’t worry about how it gets done.

I couldn’t believe my ears. Then it occurred to me, this is the kind of leadership that many organizations practice (and has led to their destruction). In fact, some very popular leadership books clearly state that the main job of a leader is to “inspire a vision” or that “the domain of leaders is the future,” thus implying that real leaders don’t function in the here and now.

This is absolute HOGWASH.

Understanding Real Leadership

Interpersonal CommunicationReal leadership doesn’t happen in the future. Real leadership happens here and now.

In reality, probably 80% of real leadership happens in the interaction between two or more people. It happens face-to-face and shoulder-to-shoulder with those people you hope to lead.

Don’t get me wrong, vision is good and is an important factor to leadership.

But it is not the end by itself, and alone it is not enough

Leadership is about effectively influencing others to a common goal. It’s about getting the right people to do the right things at the right time for the right reasons.

Dwight Eisenhower said it best,

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it”.

If you can master influencing through effective relationships, you can learn to be a good leader. And, make no mistake, leadership can be learned. And the first thing that leaders learn is that trying to go it alone leads to failure. There is a futility in trying to be leader without considering those you are trying to lead.

You Can’t Lead If You Aren’t With Those You Are Leading

One of the most disappointing things I’ve seen that perpetuates this image is the Successory quote about leadership. You know the one. It has the bald eagle sitting alone in a tree and ends with this caption

…In the end, leaders are much like eagles…they don’t flock, you find them one at a time.

This is one of the most ridiculous images for leadership I can imagine. Whenever I’m coaching a leader and I see this in their office, I immediately know that I have my work cut out for me. It’s stupid because it gives the impression that a leader is one person doing things by themselves, at their own will.

It’s like the idea that a leader just sets the strategy and vision and then disappears. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Successful leaders are found in the middle of those they are leading.

They don’t swoop in, do their business, and fly off to their lone perch. Perhaps a more appropriate image for a leader might be a wolf as it is leading its pack.

Leading The Pack

Leading the pack requires:

  1. Courage to know where to go. Sure this requires vision.
  2. Leading by example (walk the walk). You can’t do this unless the team can see you. You have to be among those you are leading.
  3. The ability to influence people in the way most effective to them. Build effective teams.
  4. Recognition that it isn’t about you, it’s about the pack.

Leadership, at its core, is about influencing people where they are and getting them to go where they need to go.

  • So, if you are a leader how are you influencing those around you?
  • Are you building effective teams?
  • Are you making sure that your followers are also building effective teams?
  • What are you doing to build your own influencing skills?

Do something today to make yourself a better leader. Read a leadership article (good start right here). Enroll in a workshop that will build those skills. Find a coach or mentor to talk you through your areas of your own that need improvement. The key is, never stop working on yourself. Your team deserves it.


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David Hasenbalg
David Hasenbalg is President and COO of Customized Solutions, LLC
He helps individuals and organizations achieve their objectives and their potential
Email │ LinkedInTwitterWebBlog

Image Sources: cjeffaustin.com.au, communication-type.com

L2L Contributing Author


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