What Leadership isn't.
Updated: Jun 14
In thinking about what leadership is and what it takes to be a good leader, I would like to start by highlighting 3 limitations or misconceptions I find many have in thinking about leadership.
Limitation 1: Thinking about leadership only in terms of personality characteristics
When we think of good leaders we often think of leaders with “charismatic” qualities who are able to persuade and influence others through their personalities. This kind of thinking focuses on personality characteristics and assumes that if we weren’t born with a “leader personality” then we can’t be a good leader.
Well, I obviously don't believe that or I wouldn’t be a leadership development trainer and coach. I believe we can all learn to lead.
“Leaders aren’t born, they are made.
And they are made just like anything else, through hard work.
And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any other goal.”
- Vince Lombardi
Although there are leaders among us that are naturally more charismatic, inspiring and influential, there are also many others who have cultivated these characteristics and skills overtime, through their experiences, hard work, self-development, training and coaching.
Leadership is a practicable and learnable skill. The first requirement is that you have to want to learn to lead and the second is that you understand what makes a good leader. After that it is like building muscles, you need to keep practicing to develop the skill.
Limitation 2: Thinking about leadership solely in terms of a position
People often think of leadership solely in terms of a position: a position of power and/or a position of authority. They may use the term “leadership” or “leaders” to refer to the people at the very top of a hierarchy and call anyone in the layer below as “management” or “managers”
However, looking at leadership only in terms of position, assumes leaders only lead and managers only manage. Although there are differences between what is expected of a leader and what is expected of a manager, we find we need to do a little bit of both, depending on the context and situation.
“Leadership is not a position or a title,
it is action and example.”
- Donald H. McGannon
Whereas one could argue that managers are tied to a position, anyone can lead from anywhere. A Manager can lead a team or lead an initiative. Leadership is not just a matter of position; it is more an effect. The results of leadership (good or bad) can be recognised and felt. You can lead regardless of where you stand in the organisation.
So we need to go beyond thinking of leadership in terms of a position and rather think of leading as an action verb: the act of leading.
Limitation 3: Using the term “management” and “leadership” interchangeably.
I often hear people use the terms “management” and “leadership” or “lead” and “manage” interchangeably and are not clear on the differences.
It gets especially confusing because leaders at times need to use some management skills and managers at times must lead.
So what is the difference? There is a lot of debate around this but I like to think of it simply, in these terms.
“Leadership is doing the right things;
management is doing things right.”
- Peter Drucker
In other words, leading - doing the right things—focuses on the future and deciding the best course of action to take. It is about empowering people and facilitating learning, growth and development in order to achieve this desired future.
Once the best course or direction has been decided, managing - doing things right— makes it happen and ensures quality and correct outputs. It is about planning, delegating, communicating and monitoring the activities to achieving the set goals.
Both are vital functions that compliment and support each other.
So what is Leadership? What makes a good leader?
Stay tuned....and join me on an exploration of what leadership is and what it takes to be a good leader.
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